photos: Maryann Lopinto
I'd never been to one of the Broadway By The Year revues at Town Hall before. After seeing this latest edition, which kicked off the tenth year of the series, I'm suitably ashamed. Are these shows always as elegantly presented and as thrillingly performed? Is there always as captivating a mix of ballads, comedy songs, and dance pieces? If so, I've been missing out on the most polished, most enjoyable Broadway concerts in town.
The concept of the series is to spotlight Broadway numbers from a particular calendar year (1927 this time, when more than 200 shows opened on Broadway according to our warm, welcoming host/producer Scott Siegel). This was the year of the watershed musical Show Boat, represented in this revue by 6 numbers from a gorgeous, "unplugged" (unamplified) performance of "You Are Love" (Alexander Gemignani and Kate Baldwin) to a lovely take on "Make Believe" (sung by Ragtime revival castmates Quentin Earl Darrington and Christiane Noll). The Show Boat highlights were undoubtedly "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man", sung with great feeling and superb skill by new cabaret sensation Carole Bufford, and "Bill", nothing short of sublime as sung by Baldwin. Only "Ol' Man River" disappointed in comparison with Darrington, otherwise splendid all evening, too heavy-handed.
Besides other American Songbook standards that first appeared in 1927's Broadway shows - for instance "S'Wonderful" (charmingly put over by Bobby Steggert), "My Blue Heaven" (Chad Kimball), and the title song from Funny Face (a delightful duet for Bufford and Christopher Fitzgerald) - there were a couple of little-known gems, such as the yearning, lilting ballad "Just A Memory" from Manhattan Mary, flawlessly delivered by Fitzgerald. An essential component of the Broadway By The Year shows, I've come to learn, is the inclusion of dance numbers. Here, Jeffry Denman and Noah Racey totally killed with the Gene Kelly-Fred Astaire tap duet "The Babbitt and the Bromide" from Funny Face. Another dance highlight: Kendrick Jones and Melinda Sullivan paired up for "The Varisty Drag" from Good News. Throughout all this variety, Ross Patterson leads his versatile Little Big Band combo with unerring taste and sensitivity.
One of the revue's great joys is the chance to see the performers of today so convincingly slip into and sell the styles of yesteryear, including operetta (Ron Bohmer, sensational with a piece from The White Eagle and novelty vaudeville numbers (Marc Kudisch, bringing impeccable comedic timing and musical skill to "She Don't Wanna" from The Ziegfeld Follies of 1927). He and Denman, each with a ukulele, had all of Town Hall in their pocket with their fun take on "He Loves and She Loves" from Funny Face. Sign me up to see their club act should they ever reprise it. And definitely put me down for more Broadway By The Year - one shot, and I'm hopelessly hooked.