By Elizabeth Ahlfors
Outside Town Hall there was a heat wave and inside the legendary theater, the stage sizzled with talent, a high-voltage talent lineup saluting the Broadway musicals, led by Bill Daugherty’s ebullient “Before the Parade Passes By.” No mics, no headphones, no soundboard, just Scott Siegel’s selection of singers, a few dancers and Ross Patterson’s Little Big Band with Randy Landau on bass, Mairi Dorman-Peneuf adding the cello and Patterson on piano.
There was a time when unplugged voices were the way songs were delivered on Broadway by singers like Alfred Drake and Barbara Cook. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that electronic enhancement was added. Now it is almost impossible to see a musical that isn’t amplified, often to excess. In this show, some unplugged voices soared right to the balcony and others were meaningful renditions even if they did not quite reach the back of the house.
(photos above by Russ Weatherford)
(Photos Below by Maryann Lopinto)
Selections from the usually heavily amplified Jesus Christ Superstar was a good example of the character and purity of voices without electronic help. With only “sound by God,” to quote Siegel (producer, writer, director, host), Jeremy Kushnier’s impassioned plea, “Heaven on Their Minds” was followed by Farah Alvin with “Gethsemene,” and the lyrics of both shone through with clarity and passion.
Today the most amplified musical is Phantom of the Opera but not so at Town Hall with Christopher Johnstone’s nuanced, “The Music of the Night.” From Les Misérables, a show where he never performed, Quentin Earl Darrington stepped in with an out-of-the-world rendition of, “Stars,” capturing the audience with villain Javert’s side of things.
Adriane Lenox gave an authoritative rendition of “Stormy Weather,” recently featured in After Midnight. In Act 2, Lenox joined her daughter, singer Crystal Joy, to deliver, “For Good,” a sassy lesson from The Wiz. Song-and-dance man, Jeffry Denman recalled, “What Do I Need With Love? (Thoroughly Modern Millie) and the joint was jumping when he joined Caliaf St. Aubyn in “Bounce Me, Brother, With a Solid Four” from Swing and choreographed by Denman. Jimmy James Sutherland jazz-tapped to the band’s rhythmic rendition of “My Favorite Things” (The Sound of Music).
Jenny Powers proved you can’t go “Back to Before” (Ragtime) in more ways than one, strolling on stage in a slim black sheath and obviously very pregnant.
Anyone who sings “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (Dreamgirls) and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (Funny Girl) has got to whack the numbers out to 43rd Street. Here were two ladies who did it, Jeannette Bayardelle proving she wasn’t going anywhere and the heavens wouldn’t dare rain on Carolee Carmello’s parade.
Tenor John Easterlin distinctively told the story in “The Ice Cream Sextet” from Street Scene and baritone William Michals delivered the sumptuous, “Stranger in Paradise” from Kismet. They later joined together in a highlight rendition of “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise” (The New Moon).
A band for all seasons, Russ Patterson led his trio with individualized support through diverse arrangements of R&B, jazz, gospel and pop.
Broadway Unplugged on July 20 ran for two hours and 15 minutes. This show was postponed from its original engagement last January when the fake blizzard closed New York City.