by Adam Cohen
Jack Viertel and Deborah Grace Winer remind me of my high school Social Studies teacher – knowledgeable and dogged. The classes were not lectures but impassioned conversations filled with possibilities for further exploration. Viertel has a passion for Broadway shows and enjoys a career at City Center’s Encores series for celebrating great American musicals, which may have been forgotten. Deborah Grace Winer is former Artistic Director at the 92ndSt Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists series; author of several books about Broadway; dramatist and producer. Together they are passionate about finding the gems in Broadway musicals. Together at Feinstein’s/54 Below, Thursday evening they teamed to present: Great Songs from Shows Even Encores Won’t Do as part of Ms. Winer’s series Classic American Songbook Series.
Featuring a top-notch group of singers – John Treacy Egan (The Producers, My Fair Lady), Elena Shaddow (The Visit, Nine), Aisha de Haas (Bring In Da Noise Bring in the Funk, Rent), Ross Lekites (Frozen, Kinky Boots) and legend Marilyn Maye mine the gems beautifully.
And we’re talking about songs from Broadway under appreciated productions by the likes of Irving Berlin (Mr. President, Jule Styne, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Ogden Nash, Frank Loesser among others).
Without the context of plot and character, we’re hearing pleasantly sung numbers that often make you think, I’d love to hear what else is in this show. This is especially the case with Irving Berlin’s Mr. President. In Shaddow’s hands Berlin’s rhyming patter is a dream with her version of “The Secret Service Makes Me Nervous.” While Egan nails the pathos in the same show’s “It’s Lonely in the White House.”
Aisha de Haas soared on “Darn That Dream” from Swingin’ the Dream and a luscious “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” from The Nervous Set. While Lekites made it seem like “Everything is Possible”. Maye delivered classy, poised turns of “Step to the Rear” and “Here’s That Rainy Day.”
John Bell offered generous accompaniment on the piano. With all the lovely singing and piano playing, one longs to hear a full band backing the singing. Perhaps with the next go round of this educational and entertaining evening; we’ll be lucky enough to have that pleasure along with more group numbers.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto