by Steve Nardoni
This past Wednesday at Feinstein’s/54 Below saw a Valentine-themed celebration of Broadway, romance, and relationships, delightfully represented by coupled Broadway super-talents, singing out their hearts, sharing their intimacies and humor, and showcasing their displays of love as different as each couple. Appropriately, the audience was filled with couples celebrating Valentine’s Day: roses abundant, hand-holding the norm, gentle kisses stolen, champagne toasted aloft. Our table mates, Nancy and Mark, nailed the theme before the show started, asking my partner and me, “So how did you meet? How long have you been together?” Each of us shared our stories, not realizing we were mirroring the show to come.
The delightfully mirthful Ben Rauhala emceed the proceedings and kicking off the show with a wistful rendition of “Maria” (Leonard Bernstein) performed by him at piano and Mairi Dorman-Phanuef on cello.
Then we were off. The performers, 13 couples (straight or gay, youngish or oldish, fresh or jaded) were asked “How long have you been together?” and “How did you meet?” And the 13 couples expressed the qualities and foibles of love, unabashedly exposing their feelings for each other and sharing the gift of diversified, loving, warm, and amusing relationships. And on top of all that, they sang for us!
Several highlights: David Ingber and Emily McNamara sang a charming and rousing rendition of “Despacito” (Ramon Ayala, Erika Ender, & Luis Rogriguez), chosen since it is an oft-used lullaby for their baby and “in a foreign language with a million lyrics.” Austin Colby and Caroline Bowman, sweetly sang “Somewhere Out There” and described how Austin proposed after a 54 Below show, with tea candles leading Emily to her destiny. The song “Let’s Play a Love Scene” (Steve Margoshes and Jacquez Levy) combined the droll Marie Eife at piano with her partner Kelly Thomas singing her heart out. Christopher Rice and his husband Clay Thomson paired “Let’s Get Together” (Robert and Richard Sherman) from the movie The Parent Trap (originally sung by Hayley Mills) with “I Don’t Need Anything But You” from Annie (Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin) and their charming voices and sweet demeanor rang home the theme of those “love” songs. Most appealing were RJ Vallaincourt and his wife Sara Kapner along with their cat Pita. The voraciously loved Pita joined us in a slide show while they ebulliently sang “Happiness” (Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens) from Rocky.
We were, quite literally, charmed. The audience glowed in response to everyone’s performances and sweet stories of everything from bowling alley dates to gold star gays, second marriages and even “our exes had an affair and we got married.” I was a bit disappointed that not all the songs were Broadway-sourced, but it mattered not: talent is talent!
And by the way, if you have never been to 54 Below, get it on your laundry list, folks. The food is excellent, the staff is charming and efficient and the venue never fails to deliver an evening of great entertainment.
A Very Broadway Valentine’s Day was presented February 14 at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue). www.54below.com