By Eric J. Grimm
The stories of potential gems that fell just short of playing on Broadway eclipse the shows themselves in 54 Below’s first (and hopefully not last) edition of Broadway Bound, which premiered on March 21st. It’s a fascinating program that effectively balances big musical numbers with often jaw-dropping tales of how the shows flamed out prior to their premieres. The music is mostly forgettable but this work of living musical theater journalism is as engrossing as cabaret gets.
The sometimes shocking histories of these ill-fated works gives the program an undercurrent of melancholy and bitterness. Jill Paice is in excellent voice as she dreams of Manderley in a song from the notorious musical adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, but she’s a marvel when she candidly discusses the trauma of being in a production fraught with financial turmoil. Bryan Fenkart similarly expresses dismay at having been involved in the aborted production of Steve Jobs/Bill Gates musical Nerds. The silly tune “Email to God” suggests that Nerds would not necessarily have had a lengthy run had its financial backing not fallen through, but Fenkart sings like he’s playing to a full auditorium and it would be great to see him with better material.
Loni Ackerman is a bit sunnier with her tales of old New York and her time as one of the leads in Maltby and Shire’s ill-advised 1967 computer dating musical How Do You Do, I Love You. At the weirder and most transfixing end of the spectrum, brassy Lesli Margherita takes on “I Met a Man” from the deliciously offensive 1971 musical Prettybelle, which was to star Angela Lansbury. Margherita’s full-bodied angry singing and the background information that hosts Jennifer Ashley Tepper and Robert W. Schneider provide encouraged me to devour all available information about this bizarre show. Tepper and Schneider are wholly successful in taking a concept that might be too inside-baseball for those, like me, who aren’t die-hard musical theater fans and making it accessible to all who are merely interested in oddities and failures and how they come about.
Broadway Bound played at 54 Below (254 W. 54th St.). For more programming, visit http://54below.com