By Joel Benjamin
The warmth that filled Feinstein’s/54 Below during Scott Siegel’s Broadway Originals! was the perfect antidote to the freezing weather and the perilous news filling the airwaves outside the elegant cabaret venue. If anyone doubts the value of entertainment, send them to any of Siegel’s upcoming shows (although it might be difficult to match this particular lineup of talent).
The Broadway Originals! series brings to the stage performers re-creating moments from either original productions or revivals. Astoundingly, two of the artists made their Broadway debuts more than seventy years ago!
Sondra Lee, who sadly did not choose to sing, nevertheless was enchantingly vulnerable and awe-inspiring speaking of the brashness of her youth. Jerome Robbins, impressed with her spunky, can-do nature, cast her in her first show. Certainly her history on Broadway—High Button Shoes (1947), Peter Pan (1954), Hello, Dolly! (1964)—and her esteem as a teacher gave her the aura of a sweet sage.
Sarah Rice, the original Johanna in Sweeney Todd (1979) preceded her beautiful rendition of “Green Finch and Linnett Bird” (Stephen Sondheim) with the deservedly proud revelation that her original recording of this song was honored by being part of the Smithsonian’s collection of theater songs. Her anecdote about the bulky floor-length wig which hampered her performances—causing her to feel like Cousin It—was quite funny. Of course, it was subsequently trimmed to a more convenient length. She sang the song with a sweetness that belied the passage of years.
T. Oliver Reid performed three songs from After Midnight (2013) that showed how this singer has matured over the years into a stylish interpreter of theater songs. The show opened with his catchy “Diga Diga Doo” (Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields) in which he wittily imitated several instruments. Reid’s lush “Ill Wind” (Arlen/Koehler) and his easygoing “”I’ve Got the World on a String” (Arlen/Koehler) cemented his position as a fine voiced actor/singer.
Stephanie D’Abruzzo did her signature number from Avenue Q, “A Fine, Fine Line” (Lopez/Marx), quietly bemoaning the fact that it has become the audition song for young ladies clamoring to get into musical theater. She gave it her all, squeezing every bit of emotion from this sour look at life.
Even though Joan Copeland had to be helped onto the stage and doddered a bit before finding her focus, her “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” from Pal Joey (1976 revival) was astonishing in its clarity and emotional depth. Ms. Copeland, leaned against the piano, concealing a world of disappointment beneath a sophisticated façade. She brought many of the audience members to tears.
Ross Patterson was the terrific music director. Mr. Siegel, as usual, was the backbone of the show, his encyclopedic knowledge illuminating the evening. Look out for his upcoming presentations.
February 4th will feature:
Stephanie J. Block (Tony Nominee, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 9 to 5)
Len Cariou (Tony Award Winner, Sweeney Todd, 1979)
Claybourne Elder (Bonnie & Clyde)
Bill Irwin (Tony Award Winner, MacArthur Genius, Bye, Bye Birdie revival)
Lee Roy Reams (42nd St., Hello, Dolly!)
Photos: Maryann Lopinto
Broadway Originals! (January 12, 2017, 9:30 pm)
254 West 54th Street, Cellar, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
New York, NY
For tickets, call 646-476-3551 or visit www.54Below.com
For more information, visit www.siegelpresents.com