Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr.
November 14th at The Town Hall was originally booked for Barbara Cook’s only concert appearance in New York. However, Cook cancelled two weeks ago and rather than forfeit the deposit on Town Hall, the producers Joanne and Bernie Furshpan and Joseph Macchia hastily put together a substitute show “Bright Stars on Broadway.” With short notice and little public awareness, the house on Thursday night was about one quarter full, and many of those in the audience were Metropolitan Room regulars.
The major loss was the music loving public. The line-up of performers, all with Broadway and road credits and many Tony nominations and wins, were spectacular. With musical director Barry Levitt at the piano, Jon Burr on bass, and Ray Marchica on drums and percussion, there was a full orchestra sound behind each of the singers. The singers were Brenda Braxton (“Smokey Joe‘s Café”), Richard Kind (“The Producers”), Natalie Toro (“A Tale of Two Cities”), Michelle Dowdy (“Hairspray”), Robert Creighton (“Anything Goes” “Drood”), Brandi Massey (“Wicked“), Bernard Dobson (“Sweet Smell of Success”), Debra Walton (“Chicago”), Marcos Paul James (“Rent”), Liz McKendry (“The Producers”), Tom Gamblin (“Titanic“) and Romelda Benjamin (“Brooklyn The Musical”). Many of them sang songs from the Broadway productions they had been in and all were terrific.
Among the selections were Brandi Massey’s “The Wizard and I” and a beautiful torch song “Unlimited,” Robert Creighton’s “Red Red Robin” with whistles and sing a long and an animated “I Get A Kick Out of You.” Michelle Dowdy’s “What Did I Have,” Marcus Paul James’ “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying,” Bernard Dobson’s animatedly singing and dancing “Laughing All the Way to the Bank.” Liz McKendry sang a sexy and funny ”A Phone Call From the Vatican,” Ramona Teron Benjamin’s a full belt on “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” Tom Gamblin’s heart-breaking version of Peter Allen‘s “”Once Before I Go.” If I have any complaints about the selections it would be that several female singers sang songs identified with Judy Garland and suffered in comparison with the immortal memory of her unique and special interpretations.
Richard Kind, recent Tony nominee for “The Big Knife” sang without a microphone, first the hysterically funny “Butler’s Song” from the musical “Enter Laughing” and then apologized to Stephen Sondheim for changing the lyrics to one of his songs from “Company.” It was a very tender, sung very straight “Sorry, Grateful” except he substituted the masculine “he” and “him” for “she” and “her.”
Natalie Toro plugged her Christmas CD by singing tenderly and movingly “Just In Time For Christmas” and a special highlight was Debra Walton’s salute to Eartha Kitt singing “Come On-A My House” in Japanese with an explanation that Kitt learned it from another singer when she was delayed on a Japanese flight!
Braxton, who seems not to have aged a year since “Smokey Joe’s Café,” was commanding and terrific in her selections, showing great legs in very short black sequined hot pants! The penultimate selection was her singing Peggy Lee’s “I Am Woman” joined by Walton and Massey each one of them aggressively ripping out those strong feminine lyrics.
The producers’ next event at Town Hall is “Holiday Belles” conceived and directed by Michael Bush on Thursday, December 19 at 8 PM. Bush ran the musical workshops at Manhattan Theater Club and the Eugene O’Neill Foundation and it stars Leslie Uggams, Christine Andreas, and the incomparable Marilyn Maye! This is bound to be a sold out show so book your tickets now at Ticketmaster 1 800 982-2787.
Producer’s Note: “We put this show together in a hurry [one week] and it turned out to be one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Being in the middle of a supportive audience and enjoying it with them, was truly magical. It’s amazing how a little faith can go a long way… you gotta believe!”
*Photos: Maryann Lopinto