Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr.
The Town Hall in New York City has been presenting Scott Siegel’s “Broadway by the Year” series for fourteen years, most of the times targeting a specific year on Broadway. This year, for a change, they are focusing on 100 years of Broadway musicals, which took place on February 24 – “The Broadway Musicals of 1915-39.” Again, the great music director was Ross Patterson on piano, Dan Falzone on bass, and Jared Schonig on drums, and it featured a sixteen member chorus coached by director Scott Coulter. Scott Siegel created, wrote, and hosted, with great detail about the background of the songs and times.
All the 25 featured singers were veterans of Broadway, the road, and operetta. The oldest song was “I Love A Piano” from “Stop! Look! Listen!,” performed with manic energy and comic comments by the animated Mark Nadler, mingling monologues, pratfalls and classical interpolations as he attacked the piano and one wondered if we was going to destroy it before Patterson got a chance to play it! Chip Zien on his ukulele sang an Al Jolson song “Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go With Friday on Saturday Night” from “Robinson Crusoe Jr.,” 1916. Another Jolson number was “Swanee” from “Demi-Tasse” (1919) sung fully by the Broadway by the Year Chorus until Lara White, svelte in a great gown, came out and finished the number wildly. Stephanie J. Bloch saluted Fannie Brice’s “My Man” (1921) in a hairstyle and dress that channeled Streisand.
Most wonderful was BBTY veteran Noah Racey singing and dancing Gershwin’s “I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise” from “George White’s Scandals,” 1922. Racey was a master at involving the band in his soft shoe and tap performance. He was followed by chic and glamorous Karen Akers doing a heart-felt and impeccably phrased slow version of “What’ll I Do,” from “Music Box Revue,” 1923. Her performance elicited Bravas from the full house. A classical tenor,, Dillon McCartney did a wonderful version of “Serenade” from the long running “The Student Prince,” 1924, hitting sumptuous high notes. John Easterlin, another classical tenor, without amplification, soared on “Only A Rose” from “The Vagabond King” 1925. Both men sang the full verses on these songs. Stephanie D’Abruzzo sang a melting “Someone To Watch Over Me” from “Oh Kay,” 1926 and Lari White closed the first act with a dramatic “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from “Show Boat,) 1927.
Handsome Sebastian Arcelus stood stock still and charmed the men and women with his tender “I’ve Got A Crush On You,” from the flop show “Treasure Girl,” 1928. Nimble hoofer Danny Gardner choreographed and performed a wonderful rarity “By Special Permission of the Copyright Owners, I Love You” from “The Gang’s All Here,” 1931. His singing and dancing partner was Aleka Emerson and they were delightful with wonderfully synchronized movements and back and forth vocals. Julia Murney, in sexy red, draped herself against the piano and sang a muted version of “Blow Gabriel Blow” from “Anything Goes,” 1934, interacting with the musicians on their solos. Sal Viviano, also tall and sexy, did a stunning “Begin the Beguine” from “Jubilee,” 1935 with thrilling high notes. Karen Mason, in clinging white, raced through a flawless “Ridin’ High” from “Red Hot and Blue,” 1936, In a striking evening gown, Carolee Carmello did a flawless “Johnny One Note” from “Babes in Arms,” 1937. Her breath control and sustained high notes were astonishing!
Siegel explained that the next song was in a flop show, “Right This Way,” 1938 but a few years later it became very contemporary when the U.S. entered WWII. Emily Skinner stood ramrod straight and after singing the familiar verse, and did a tender and very moving “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
The next Broadway by the Year will be presented again at Town Hall on March 31 and will be “The Broadway Musicals of 1940-1964.” Order your tickets now because everyone of this great series sells out fast!
*Photos: Maryann Lopinto