By Marilyn Lester
The ongoing series, Broadway by the Year, created, written, directed and hosted by Scott Siegel, has an impressive success rate over its 17 years. This edition was a particular standout, not because the material was necessarily spectacular, but because the talent was especially strong in both execution and as a perfect storm of boffo performers. The musical theater decade of 1997 to 2006 brought an eclectic mix of shows featuring very different musical styles, from swing to rock to country to the “traditional.” This dream cast handled it all with perfection.
Two of Broadway’s funniest shows also opened in the decade in question. One was the side-splitting The Drowsy Chaperone. Standing in for an unavoidably absent Emily Skinner, Pedro Capetti, plucked from the ranks of the Broadway by the Year Chorus, vamped through “I Am Aldolpho” from this show, with hilarious results. From the wildly funny Spamalot. Jeremy Benton and Danny Gardener hoofed and hammed through “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” with zany merriment and perfect comic timing. These two tappers are a joy to behold, with talent to spare, and wonderfully engaging stage personalities. Additionally, Gardner, with swing dancers Gaby Cook and Bobby White, self-choreographed a full-throttle routine to Swing!‘s Ellington-Basie medley “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)/Jumpin’ at the Woodside” that had the joint jumpin’. Benton exuded maximum appeal and charm galore with dance partner Danette Holden in a happy-making “Pick Yourself Up” (Never Gonna Dance), with choreography by Benton and Randy Skinner.
Where talent is concerned, Brian Charles Rooney has a corner on the market. Rooney is versatile – unafraid to make choices – and in command of his performances. He also knows his way around the real estate of the stage, which he uses to advantage. His “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” (Jersey Boys) and “”Stranger in the World” (Taboo) were only exceeded in inspiration by a soaring, transporting “The Prayer” (The Scarlet Pimpernel). Replacing a slot made vacant by the aforementioned Skinner, Stephanie D’Abruzzo reprised one of her songs from Avenue Q, “A Fine, Fine Line,” and sang a sensitive rendition of “Feed the Birds” (Mary Poppins) with beautiful voice and excellent, no-need-to-belt dynamics. Maxine Linehan, who possesses a brilliant, rich, velvet voice, displayed her gentler side (sadly, much missing these days) on “The Next Best Thing to Love” (A Class Act). In contrast, her belt persona prevailed on “Holding on For a Hero” (Footloose). Also powerfully voiced is Farah Alvin, who applied excellent storytelling skills to “The Winner Takes It All” (Mama Mia) and “Don’t Cry Out Loud” (The Boy from Oz).
Also plucked from the chorus, singing Emily Skinner’s signature number, were Emily Iaquinta and Jeanine Bruen who fiercely sang “I Will Never Leave You” (Sideshow). Christina Bianco, YouTube sensation for her impressions, recreated the buzz with “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (Dance of the Vampires) and impressed with her own flexible voice on “The Wizard and I” (Wicked). Josh Young demonstrated an amazing vocal range, from male soprano to baritone with “You Walk With Me” (The Full Monty) and “Barrett’s Song” (Titanic). Young, with the Broadway by the Year Chorus (Emma Camp and Jacob Pressley in addition to those already mentioned), issued a powerful “Endless Night” (The Lion King), joined by the entire cast for a grand finale. Providing accompaniment were Music Director and versatile pianist Ross Patterson, with Tom Hubbard on bass guitar and upright bass, and Eric Halvorson on drums.
Photos Courtesy of: Genevieve Rafter Keddy (BroadwayWorld.com)
Broadway by the Year: 1997-2006, May 22, 8 PM
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