A Funny Thing Happened: Songs from the Road to Broadway

 

How a single song can change the fate of a show and make a star.

 

Photo: Lyrics & Lyricists: A Funny Thing Happened: Songs from the Road to Broadway" Kathleen Marshall, artistic director, stage director, writer & host David Eggers, associate director David Chase, music director Aaron C. Finley, vocals Darius de Haas, vocals Ann Harada, vocals Greg Hildreth, vocals Elena Shaddow, vocals Betsy Wolfe, vocals Steve Kenyon, woodwinds Brian Pareschi, trumpet Neal Caine, bass Paul Pizzuti, drums performance photographed: Saturday, January 9, 2016; 8:00 PM; Kaufmann Concert Hall; 92nd Street Y; New York, NY. Photograph: © 2016 Richard Termine. PHOTO CREDIT - Richard Termine

 

By Joel Benjamin

 

The theme of the opening salvo of the 92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists series is a particularly fascinating one for theater buffs: songs either written or eliminated during pre-Broadway tryouts of famous shows.

 

Whether characters were eliminated, like the theatrical agent in Kander & Ebb’s Chicago (“10 Percent,” sung with proper smugness by Greg Hildreth) or a new opening song, like Sondheim’s “Comedy Tonight”which turned the struggling A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum into a hit, this program was full of treasures, beautifully sung with intriguing back stories.   Can you believe that the Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” sung with just the right longing by Elena Shaddow, was cut from at least two shows?

 

Kathleen Marshall, the Tony Award winning director/choreographer, was the low-keyed host, connecting the numbers with stories of songs being written in hotel rooms, on trains and in theater lobbies.

Photo: Lyrics & Lyricists: A Funny Thing Happened: Songs from the Road to Broadway" Kathleen Marshall, artistic director, stage director, writer & host David Eggers, associate director David Chase, music director Aaron C. Finley, vocals Darius de Haas, vocals Ann Harada, vocals Greg Hildreth, vocals Elena Shaddow, vocals Betsy Wolfe, vocals Steve Kenyon, woodwinds Brian Pareschi, trumpet Neal Caine, bass Paul Pizzuti, drums performance photographed: Saturday, January 9, 2016; 8:00 PM; Kaufmann Concert Hall; 92nd Street Y; New York, NY. Photograph: © 2016 Richard Termine. PHOTO CREDIT - Richard Termine

Some songs helped make bigger stars of their interpreters. “Sing Happy” from Flora, the Red Menace (Kander/Ebb) gave a career bump to Liza Minnelli. Ann Harada’s gleeful take was refreshing. “Before I Gaze at You Again” (Lerner/Loewe) added a much needed emotional punch to Camelot and Julie Andrews. Ms. Shaddow caught all the sad longing of the lyrics. In this group of “star makers” was also “Gimme, Gimme” (Jeanine Tesori/Dick Scanlan) from Thoroughly Modern Millie which elevated Sutton Foster to stardom—and a Tony Award! Betsy Wolfe gave the song an anxious, yet boisterous reading.

 

There were several tries—oddly, using the melody that would become “Getting to Know You”—to provide a proper song to the Lieutenant Cable character in South Pacific, before the extraordinary “Younger Than Springtime” (Rodgers/Hammerstein) filled the bill. Youthful Aaron C. Finley had just the right ardency for this passionate love song. Mr. Finley’s “Being Alive” from Company (Sondheim) showed why this song was the perfect summation of that show.

 

Darius De Haas handled the psychological and emotional complexities of “I’ve Been” from the Brian Torkey/Tom Kitt musical Next to Normal as well as the youthful eagerness of “Miracle of Miracles” from Fiddler on the Roof (Bock/Harnick). From that show, “Do You Love Me?” was sung by Ms. Harada and Mr. Hildreth with a touching brashness that brought tears to many eyes.

 

There were songs by Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jule Styne from Peter Pan that managed to change a nice show into a huge hit and more gems from Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick as well two songs by Frank Loesser from Guys and Dolls, all performed with panache and style.

 

However, the two final songs really heated things up. The exuberant “You’re Just In Love” from Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam, his first try at combining two songs that complemented each other, was sung by Mr. Finley and Ms. Harada. And then the—also quite exuberant—title song from Oklahoma!, sung robustly by the entire cast brought the show to a close with a punch.

 

David Chase, the music director and pianist of the evening, also provided the brilliant arrangements, changing moods, timbres and colors with brilliance, making his small band sound like a big band. Steve Kenyon (woodwinds), Brian Pareschi (trumpet), Neal Caine (bass) and Paul Pizzuti (drums) were the fine musicians.

 

Ms. Marshall and her associate director, David Eggers, kept things flowing smoothly, putting the six singers through their paces.

 

There are four more Lyrics & Lyricists concerts coming up. Check them out.

 

*Photos: Richard Termine

92 Y Lyrics & Lyricists

 

A Funny Thing Happened: Songs from the Road to Broadway (January 9-11, 2016)

92 Street Y

1395 Lexington Avenue, between 92 and 91 Streets New York, NY

For tickets, call 212-415-5500 or visit www.92Y.org/lyrics

Running time: one hour, 45 minutes, including one intermission

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