by Brian Scott Lipton
The soaring tones of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Memory” will soon fill the Neil Simon Theatre. It’s a fitting tune for a showplace that is so full of memories. For over the past 88 years, the Simon (originally the Alvin) has housed scores of Broadway’s most famous and (infamous) musicals—many of which were duly paid tribute on June 29 at Feinstein’s/54Below, exactly 33 years to the day when the house was renamed for the award-winning playwright (during the run of his hit comedy Brighton Beach Memoirs).
Indeed, no theater could have asked for a more thoroughly entertaining and gently educational salute than this wonderful two-hour show, produced and directed by Robert W. Schneider and emceed by Jennifer Ashley Tepper.
The show’s first third, celebrating the theater’s first four decades, cleverly used performers who had once appeared on the Alvin/Simon stage: Lara Teeter sang pleasantly and hoofed smartly through the Gershwins’ “S’Wonderful” (from Funny Face); Christiane Noll lent her silvery soprano to an absolutely gorgeous “Falling In Love With Love” (from The Boys From Syracuse); Betsy Struxness was simply adorable explaining why “It’s a Perfect Relationship” (from Bells Are Ringing); and Ryan Andes touched our hearts with “You’ve Come Home,” which was originally sung on the Alvin stage by his grandfather, Keith, in the Lucille Ball vehicle Wildcat.
Still, the show kicked into high gear once things got very personal. It was a sheer delight to hear the great Jim Brochu intersperse stories of his friendship with the legendary character actor David Burns while performing Stephen Sondheim’s tongue-twisting “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” (from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). Original Company star Pamela Myers made the decades seemingly disappear while recreating the role of Marta and belting out her big number “Another Hundred People” with consummate skill. Lyricist and director Martin Charnin related stories about the auditions for Annie before introducing the big-voiced, pint-sized Annabel Wachtel, who gave her all to “Tomorrow.” And Merrily We Roll Along star Lonny Price made us laugh as he performed (for the first time in 35 years!) a little parody piece he wrote during pre-rehearsals for that famed flop, which was followed by the ensemble’s beautiful take on its timeless “Our Time.”
It was a pleasure to see and hear the still-gorgeous Shelly Burch (aka Mrs. Martin Charnin), who mined the poignancy from “It Would Have Been Wonderful” (from Annie Warbucks, which never made it to the Alvin/Simon), and who later duetted sweetly with composer David Pomeranz on the pretty “Blame It on Love,” which was cut from the short-lived Scandalous.
Meanwhile, the basically unknown Nick Cartell simply knocked it out of the park with a stunning “Gethesmane” from Jesus Christ Superstar (he understudied the role in the show’s most recent revival). And the ever-delicious Annie Golden was customarily spectacular, first singing the lively “Good Morning Baltimore,” the unforgettable opening number of Hairspray. (Did you know she had done the demo recording? I didn’t!) And then, in a hastily planned encore, Golden lived up to her name with a sterling rendition of the aforementioned “Memory,” leaving the audience in heaven. Hey, maybe, it won’t be so bad if this run of Cats” lives now and forever . . .
Photos: Maryann Lopinto
54 Salutes The Neil Simon Theatre took place at Feinstein’s/54Below (254 West 54th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue) at 7pm on Wednesday, June 29. www.54below.com