by Matt Smith
Scott Siegel has done it again! Last Saturday, the indefatigable host-with-the-most delivered his latest incarnation of Broadway Originals, his monthly bash wherein a variety of Broadway performers sing the hit songs they first made memorable, either originating the role or landing it in the first major cast of that show’s revival. There’s no doubt Siegel’s concerts are always a special treat… but this one was especially memorable, with a lively lineup not to be missed!
With Seigel poised at his perch, and the delightful Ross Patterson accompanying at the piano, the evening kicked off in style — as one would expect a swanky Broadway shindig might do — with a rousing rendition of 42nd Street’s anthem, “Lullaby of Broadway,” impeccably sung by that show’s original Billy Lawlor (who reveals the team originally wanted him to audition for choreographer Andy), Lee Roy Reams. (“I hope I can still do it in the original key,” he quips, before launching into song; and then later, “Thank you, Jesus!” amid natural applause, when he hits that looming high note).
The rest of the starry roster followed suit, and the program was nothing sort of incredible. Other highlights included Len Cariou, who first delivered a deliciously haunting medley of selections from A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd, and returned with a selection of Shakespeare monologues and soliloquies, which acted as introductions to big Broadway numbers, all of which had something to do thematically with the corresponding Shakespeare selection, in a wildly enjoyable bit from his Off-Broadway engagement, Broadway and the Bard (look it up, it’s seriously quite remarkable!)… and the beyond brilliant Stephanie J. Block, who wowed us all first by revisiting the titular role in The Pirate Queen, to much praise and ovation (I mean, seriously… those pipes! Girl can do no wrong!), and then giving us one final reprisal of her Trina (which she performed from Sept.-Jan. in the revival of Falsettos), delivering her take on the Act II ballad, “Holding to the Ground.” (Equal parts moving and chilling, she was fabulous… and that’s really all there is to say).
But the standout of all performers this time ‘round, however, was vaudevillian actor (and 2005 Tony winner!) Bill Irwin, who, it should be noted, was making his Feinstein’s/54 Below debut at this performance. Jokingly acknowledging that he couldn’t deliver the vocal complexities to the same extent as his colleagues (nor did he dress the same, clad in a top hat and oversized suspenders, as vaudevillian performers do), his unconventional take on “Kids,” from Bye Bye Birdie, a show in which he appeared in 2009 — complete with vocal trills, hat tricks and a bit o’ ukulele — provided a refreshing breath of air to the traditional (yet equally stunning) classics of the day of old. Plus, his humor simply can’t be beat: “[The song] puts us all so comfortably in the warmth of generational rage. Please feel it with me,” he deadpans before beginning. I mean, can you get any better than that?!
The evening ended with Reams returning to the stage, also known for originating Cornelius Hackl on Broadway (and did you know he played Dolly herself [yes, the first male actor to do so!] in a production in Boca Raton, Fl.) to perform a Hello, Dolly! mega-medley, featuring the standards you know and love — “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and “Before the Parade Passes By” among them —
before graciously making time to acknowledge Bette Midler, David Hyde Pierce, and the cast of the forthcoming revival, wishing them luck in carrying the torch later this Spring. It was a poignant, honorable gesture for Reams, especially in an evening of celebrating originals, to give that nod — that blessing — to the new cast, welcoming them in and letting them know that despite his history and association with the show (having both appeared with Carol Channing in the original and directing her in the revival) that the show, in a way, belonged to them now.
So, “in with the new” indeed…. but does that really mean “out with the old”?! Don’t be silly… of course not… especially if Siegel has anything to do with it! You see, as his shows so brilliantly demonstrate, of course, it’s important to champion/support/welcome in new theatre (and believe me, yours truly definitely does… got my whole list of Spring shows to check off… Dolly included!) but honestly, at the end of the day… well…. you just can’t beat the Broadway Originals.
Photos: Stuart Chassen
Scott Siegel’s Broadway Originals performs regularly at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 W. 54th Street). For tickets and full schedule of events, visit www.54below.com.