by: Peter Haas
One of Off-Off-Off Broadway’s long-enduring favorites (presented, actually, only one block off, at The Town Hall), Scott Siegel’s Broadway By the Year series kicked off its 15th year on February 23rd with the first of four special shows planned to celebrate a century of American musical theater.
To a full house of fans, despite the evening’s below-freezing temperatures, Scott presented a panorama of the period’s first 25 years: 1916-1940. Represented by their shows and songs were writers who put the “great” in the Great American Songbook: such talents as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart, Rudolf Friml, Kurt Weill (with Maxwell Anderson), Sigmund Romberg (with Oscar Hammerstein II) and many more.
The program was researched and narrated neatly by Scott – with his remarks presented, this evening, more succinctly than usual, in order, I was told, to let the audience get home before the temperature dropped even further). Starting off with a musical “preface” — “A Hundred Years From Today,” from Blackbirds of 1933, sung by Sal Viviano — the program followed up with one song for each year, in chronological order. First of them: 1916’s “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag,” sung by the Broadway By the Year Chorus, nine up-and-coming young people. Highlights following included “They Go Wild,” bringing Sidney Myer onstage in all his wonderful campiness; Steve Ross, with “Say It With Music” in his erudite style; Danny Gardner and Eleka Emerson in a snappy Gardner-choreographed dance rendition of “The Varsity Drag,” and two gentlemen, taking advantage of the auditorium’s grand acoustics the way they were originally designed to be used – without microphones: John Easterlin, singing “Someday” (from The Vagabond King) and William Michals, performing “One Alone,” from The Desert Song.
The show’s second half, starting with 1928’s “St Louis Blues,” brought Lumiri Tubo back to a New York stage after too long an absence, followed by a succession of favorite standards performed by top talents. Included were “More Than You Know,” sung by Nancy Anderson; “Body and Soul,” performed by Carol J. Bufford; “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” by Maxine Linehan (a show-stopper, and, like Carol, a Siegel discovery), and the return of two grand cabaret favorites: Karen Mason (now a light blonde), singing “Anything Goes,” and the always moving and majestic Karen Akers, singing “Where or When.“ Act Two also brought a return of William Michels, in a duet with Emily Skinner, performing the romantic “It Never Was You,” to huge applause. The finale: “It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow,” with the cast and chorus.
Cheers go to the dynamic Barbara Siegel for her behind-the-scenes guidance for the series, and to the series’ musical director since its inception, Ross Patterson. Accompanying skillfully on piano, he was backed this evening by Randy Landau on bass and Jamie Eblen on drums. Thanks go, as well, to supporters of the series: Bank of America and Edythe Kenner Foundation, the latter in memory of one of cabaret’s dearest supporters.
Photos Below: Russ Weatherford
Photos: Russ Weatherford & Maryann Lopinto
They were very good years!