by Joe Regan Jr.
For fifteen years Town Hall has presented Scott Siegel’s series Broadway by the Year which this season climaxed Monday, June 22, 2015 with The Broadway Musicals of 1991-2015. This the period when the so-called “juke box musicals” became common: book shows that featured established music, often rock. New shows were created with old songs by established composers (i.e. the Gershwins’ for “Crazy For You,”). As it has been since the beginning, the music director and arranger was Ross Paterson. He was on piano, and his trio featured Tom Hubbard on bass and bass guitar, and Eric Halvorson on drums and percussion.
Siegel always assembles a stellar cast and Monday was no exception, with each performer delivering a knockout performance. Larry Gatlin who played Will Rogers in 1991 began the evening sitting on a stool with his guitar, singing—as if no years had passed—the beautiful ballad “Look Around.” Others re-creating their original songs from revivals or original Broadway productions were the funny and animated Tony Danza getting lots of laughs singing “Out of the Sun” from Honeymoon in Vegas; Quinton Earl Darrington effectively singing “Make Them Hear You” as he did in the Broadway revival of Ragtime; Kyle Scatliffe sensitively singing “Go Back Home” from Scottsboro Boys (for which he received an Olivier nomination when he played this year in London); and, closing the night, Lisa Howard, singing, as she did on the Tonys this year, “Jenny’s Blues” from It Shoulda Been You, getting a standing ovation. Also getting a standing ovation were Randy Graff, who recreated “The Next Best Thing To Love,“ from Ed Kleban’s A Class Act (2001) and Cheryl Freeman recreating “If Prayers Were Horses,“ about a wife on the slavery block about to be separated from her husband in Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy‘s The Civil Wars (1999).
The most unusual of the original performers was Sahr Ngaujah, who came out on crutches (due to a recent, near fatal car accident) with the help of guitar player Ricardo Quinones, sat on a stool, and belted out his big number “Sorrow, Tears of Blood” from his Tony nominated performance from Fela (2009), while systematically removing his coat and other apparel.
Other outstanding performances within the large cast were Klea Blackhurst singing, unmiked, the big Ethel Merman number “I Got Rhythm,“ originally from Girl Crazy, interpolating into “Crazy For You,” (1992) effortlessly holding those long, high notes!; Jeffry Denman plaintively singing “Pennies From Heaven”—which was featured in Swinging on A Star (1995)—with only piano accompaniment, and then riffing with the trio as he tapped and strutted all over the Town Hall Stage; pregnant Jenn Gambatese singing the appropriate “Stop Time” from Big (1996); Kenita Miller channeling Nell Carter singing a complete version of “After You’ve Gone,” which was featured in One More Time (2002, although it was written in 1918); opera singer Sarah Jane McMahon quieting the house as she soared on the title song from Light in the Piazza (2005); Gay Marshall in a slouch hat singing a moving “It Never Was You” which was featured in the Kurt Weill biographical musical LoveMusik (2007); Jimmy Sutherland tapping and singing a cappella “It Don’t Mean A Thing” from After Midnight (2013); and Scott Coulter tenderly singing a slow version of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” from 2014’s Beautiful. Everyone else on the program was excellent, as well.
The wildest was Christina Bianco who first sang, in her own voice, “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins (2006), but then sang a list of the other songs from that show using her great imitative skills, recreating Julie Andrews, Bernadette Peters, Liza Minnelli, Kristen Chenoweth and Celine Dion. The audience went crazy.
The next two programs in the Town Hall series are Broadway’s Rising Stars on Monday, July 13, and the postponed Broadway Unplugged, Monday, July 20. http://thetownhall.org/broadway-by-the-year
Photos: Maryann Lopinto