by Marilyn Lester
There’s little doubt that Scott Siegel is the doyen of the curated show. He knows how to pick a theme, gather the best talent available, and write an economical, informative and entertaining script to tie it all together. In Broadway’s Greatest Hits! Volume 4, Siegel, the producer, director and host of the series, has upped his game – this edition was the perfect storm of entertainment. Each of the singers was “on,” with energy up and in fine voice. Each was also in prime acting form, getting into and interpreting the lyric with keen perception and conviction. Plus, it goes without saying that the cast had absolutely great material to work with.
The story song is a challenge for any performer, but it was more than well met by Michele Ragusa singing “Adelaide’s Lament” from Guys and Dolls. With reference book in hand, Ragusa cannily explained why “a poy-son can develop a cold.” For a second turn, Ragusa revealed another side of her persona, stepping into character as Gypsy’s Mama Rose and delivering one of the most fierce and intense renditions of “Some People” this reviewer has ever heard. Another story song, the tour-de-force “Paciencia y Fe” from In the Heights, was sung by Christina Aranda, who knocked it out of the park. Earlier, Aranda sang a quiet, airy “Bali H’ai” from South Pacific.
A tour-de-force in and of himself, is Danny Gardner. As if his cheery rendition of “Almost Like Being in Love” from Brigadoon – with charming bits of business – wasn’t enough, Gardner next proved why he’s a force of nature with a singing and dancing “Puttin’ On the Ritz” (closely associated with Young Frankenstein, sung with the revised set of lyrics). His explosive tap routine (with cane) would have made Fred Astaire quite happy. The technologically savvy and clever Gardner, along with a loop station, sang and danced to “I Got Rhythm“ from Girl Crazy, with rhythm to spare.
Maxine Linehan, opened Broadway’s Greatest Hits with “Unexpected Song” from Song & Dance. Linehan is a multifaceted performer, and with this rendition demonstrated her wide vocal range and control – her modulations right on target. Later, Linehan performed a sultry version of “Old Devil Moon” from Finian’s Rainbow and proved her versatility with Can Can’s “I Love Paris,” adding a Piaf-like vibrato to her presentation. Music director and pianist Ross Patterson, whose playing is generally pleasing and lyrical, accompanied with an especial lushness to the arrangement.
Last, but absolutely not least, was the headliner for this edition of Broadway’s Greatest Hits, Robert Cuccioli, who was relaxed and in top form. He appeared early on in the show with a beautifully phrased “If Ever I Would Leave You” from Camelot, with more than one heart in the room aflutter at his sincere rendition. Cuccioli closed the evening with two numbers. The last, from Jekyll and Hyde, “This Is the Moment,” is a song Cuccioli knows like the back of his hand (he was Tony-nominated for his starring role in the musical); but its tessitura is in the upper range of Cuccioli’s voice, requiring concentration on control. Whereas Cuccioli, although not quite straining, was working hard, he still produced a satisfying and successful result. It was the penultimate number, “Stars,” from Les Miserables, that scored a grand slam. The song is in Cuccioli’s baritone comfort zone and was completely magnificent in every respect, from impeccable phrasing to a powerful controlled delivery with an immensely pleasing resonance. This rendition, plus all that had gone before, had folks on their feet, and with very good reason – perfect storms of entertainment are a rarity to be lauded and applauded.
54 Sings Broadway’s Greatest Hits!: Vol. 4, April 2 at 9:30 pm
Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 W 54th St, 646-476-3551, www.54below.com
Photos: Stu Chassen