By Andrew Poretz …
The long road to Broadway is littered with shows that were “this close” to a Broadway run but, for a variety of reasons – financing, infighting, poor reviews out of town, Covid – never had their shot. These failures left behind countless good or serviceable songs, most entirely unknown. Some, like aspiring actors, are gems waiting to be discovered. Broadway Bound producer Robert W. Schneider explored these lost shows and, through their origin stories and with the help of some of Broadway’s brightest stars, gave them their place on the Great White Way. (Or at least the basement below it at 54 Below, as the Broadway theater Studio 54 is at street level.)
This edition of Broadway Bound was hosted by the witty Mr. Schneider (the host of the podcast Behind the Curtain, and Charles Kirsch, the impossibly young host of the Backstage Babble podcast. Musical director Michael Lavine provided piano accompaniment for most of the performers.
After the hosts explained the concept and history, Debbie Gravitte opened the show with “Michigan Bound” from the 1980 Swing (music by Robert Waldman, lyrics by Alfred Uhry). The star was tapped to play the lead role in the show. Some unfortunate changes were made, and when Bob Fosse saw a performance, he told the producers, “You should close it.” Debbie, flanked by Roger Dawley, Aaron Gooden, Timothy Lewis, and Bryan George Rowell, sang her heart out on this expository song, with terrific, tight harmonies by the men. Their expressive faces were delightful.
Bruce Landry, recently in Cabaret, performed “In This Room” from Goodbye to Berlin (Sandy Wilson). The tall, lanky actor has an excellent tenor voice.
Legendary director/producer Richard Maltby Jr. was simply brilliant. Terming his appearance “another change to humiliate myself,” he did anything but. He is a marvelous performer, with wry humor and exquisite timing. Accompanied by Deniz Cordell, Maltby spoke of songwriters attempting the most challenging rhyme in the world (orange, of course). He performed “Over Ripe Fruit” from The Country Wife (“a revised restoration comedy”), for which he wrote the lyrics with composer David Shire. His singing voice is just fine, too, at age 85. The sardonically risqué lyrics are hysterical, thanks to his delivery. When he momentarily forgot his lyric, someone called out, “Orange!”
The tall, blonde and delicious Erin Davie makes for a perfect Daisy Buchanan. Erin sang “Sooner or Later” from Gatsby, with great panache and character commitment. With a score by Lee Pockriss and Cy Coleman’s frequent lyricist, Carolyn Leigh, the show nearly opened on Broadway in 1969.
Johnny Mercer wrote 19 songs for Mike, a musical based on Mickey Spillane’s hardboiled detective, Mike Hammer. Mark William, who may well be the heir apparent to John Davidson, sang “I Want to Be in Love Again.” Mark surprised the sold-out room by pulling out a trumpet mid-song for a well-played solo.
Australian actor/singer Hilary Cole performed a song as “Mary Ann” from the unlikely Gilligan’s Island musical (Hope and Laurence Juber). With her sweet voice and plaintive delivery, she has the soul of a country singer. Hilary earned her place off the island.
Joe Iconis (Be More Chill) is no stranger to Broadway success. A 54 Below favorite, his Love in Hate Nation lost its momentum when the pandemic hit. He set the scene for a turbulent “rock romance” set in a 1960s “juvie hall” and introduced its off-Broadway star, Kelly McIntyre. They presented “The Three Failed Escaped Attempts of Sheila Nail.” Kelly is an outstanding singer with a big, bluesy voice (she played the lead in A Night with Janis). Joe provided piano accompaniment and vocal backup, and enlisted the audience as his backup singers.
Kelly Lester and Bryan George Rowell performed “Every Boy Deserves to be Loved by An Older Woman” from The Graduate (Bob Merrill). Kelly makes for an enticing Mrs. Robinson, while Bryan played the inexperienced Ben as more of a high school graduate than the college graduate of the film. “Let’s see how many times 20 goes into 40,” Kelly declared at the song’s conclusion.
Major Attaway and LaDonna Burns brought some soul to the action with their powerful duet on “Hungry” from Daddy Goodness (Ken Hirsch/Ron Miller). Mr. Attaway’s resonant baritone is big and bassy, with an imposing vocal and physical presence.
Musical director Michael Lavine stepped in for T. Oliver Reid, who had to bow out. He accompanied himself on “Fun” from Arthur (based on the Dudley Moore comedy), composed by Michael Skloff with lyrics by David Crane and Marta Kauffman. Notably, when the show flopped, Crane and Kauffman headed out to Hollywood, where they developed the hit TV show Friends. Not a bad career move.
They saved the best for last. The great composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Godspell, Wicked) performed Chanson, from his show The Baker’s Wife. Mr. Schwartz is a fine pianist and sings well, and it was something of a thrill when he came to the stage. This was the 2023 equivalent of having Cole Porter close the show.
Broadway Bound: The Musicals that Never Came to Broadway – Part 3 took place on February 15 at 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street between Eighth Avenue and Broadway (www.54below.com).
Photos: Melissa Griegel
Featured Image: Robert W. Schneider & Charles Hirsch