Broadway Originals 1950 to 2015




by Matt Smith


Host-with-the most Scott Siegel (Town Hall’s Broadway by the Year) is back at it again, this time with “Broadway Originals,” the second of a three-part series at Feinstein’s/54 Below. And oh, what an enjoyable evening it is. The concert follows a “glittering cast” of nine flawless titular “originals” — all of which, Siegel notes, have been either nominated for or won one or more major entertainment awards — as they croon the songs they made memorable, either originating the role or performing them in the first major cast of that show’s revival.

The program serves up quite the wide range of offerings and certainly runs the gamut of Broadway history, featuring numbers plucked from musicals, which debuted anywhere between 1970 and just last year, 2015.

On the subject, I will say that I appreciated the concert was beautifully bookended with songs from 2015. As we subsequently embarked on that whirlwind journey through time — with songs from 1970’s Two by Two, 1982’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and 2002’s Urinetown (see what I mean by “wide range”?) filling the space in between — it’s nice that it began and ended with a song from the present — not to mention, the two selections centered around the same idea of love, giving the evening a nice wraparound theme.  A perfect way to arrange the evening!   

As far as concerts go, it’s a pretty standard one: Each performer comes on stage, introduces themselves, their numbers and their show, and takes it away. The highlights, therefore, lie in the unique “backstage” stories that either precede or follow each song. Sure, it’s a blast to see all the original stars singing their “signature songs,” as Shelly Burch puts it during her turn — and sitting right next to Martin Charnin during the performance, as I was, was definitely a treat I’ll not soon forget — but if you want to hear the numbers, you can just pop in your original cast album, and there you’ll have it. What the album doesn’t give you is Josh Grisetti joking about his song titles (referencing the obscurely titled “Whatever” from It Shoulda Been You, he says “The other song I sang in that show was, ‘Who?’”), or the history behind “I Do Not Know a Day I Did Not Love You” (Tony Bennett first sang it on a pop station), or the personal poignancy of Martin Charnin’s lyrics to “Something, Somewhere,” or how Bob Stillman was written out (!!!) of his Broadway debut show after six weeks of previews. Nor would you see the true highlight of the night IMO — Ken Jennings’ LOL detailing of a performance in which he forgot the lyrics to his song, or later recalling (all-too-vividly) when Urinetown’s follow spot operator vomited on the audience during an intermission (And you also won’t see him bevel on a recording, either). So, there’s a certain added excitement to attending a concert in this fashion.   

And then, of course, there’s the thrill of hearing these voices LIVE — and again, no one does it better than these folks. Highlights include Shelly Burch’s “Unusual Way” from Nine — which she jokes, now and forever, will be associated with Nicole Kidman; Bob Stillman’s “Drift Away” from Grey Gardens (followed by the aforementioned impromptu Legs Diamond number, an enjoyable ditty sung “in vengeance”), Daniel Reichard’s “Cry for Me” (performed in a refreshing cabaret version, as opposed to the high-pitched Bob Gaudio in the show from which the song is from) and Tony Danza’s hilarious “Out of the Sun,” (no joke here, it was just hilarious) from the shuttered-too-soon Honeymoon in Vegas.

But it’s ultimately (for me) the stories that make the evening — I mean, what’s more fun than hearing memories recalled from Broadway’s best songs BY the people who sung them first!?! Only a certain few can actually do that… and even fewer can actually do it well, in a way that keeps you beggin’ for more. No fear, though… this group fits that bill, and proves exactly why revivals may come and go, but at the end of the day, there’s simply nothing like the original.

Broadway Originals played Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 W. 54th Street) on July 15th, and will return to that venue on August 26th

Photo: Maryann Lopinto