By Stanford Friedman
Broadway By The Year, at Town Hall, is showing its age, and that is a very good thing. To celebrate its 20th anniversary season, this retrospective series is featuring songs from Broadway musicals of the past two decades; the hits as well as the occasional flame out. Each of the series’s four performances, running on random Mondays between now and June, tackles a five-year period, proceeding in chronological order. The opening concert, presented on February 24 and covering 2000 to 2004, offered not only a bang for your buck, but a tap, a sizzle, and more amazing pipes than the organ of Notre Dame. Some 21 numbers were performed by eight major talents, sometimes backed by a 10-member chorus of rising stars, a veteran three piece rhythm section and a dance troupe of 26 that performed the largest tap routine ever to time step on the Town Hall stage.
Scott Siegel, the creator, director, writer and host of the series clearly knows his audience is stacked with musical aficionados of a certain age. Thus, he cheats for the greater good and includes in his program not only original musicals, but a very large handful of revivals that surfaced during 2000 – 2004, including mega-classics like Oklahoma!, Gypsy, Jesus Christ Superstar, and 42nd Street, whose title song was the night’s opening number, an instrumental that paced that stage-filling tap routine, led by the lithe Danny Gardner.
With the performers dressed in street clothes, formal wear, or character costumes, their rapid-succession solos resulted in many opportunities to compare and contrast. First there was the debonnaire Max von Essen crooning “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’” which was immediately followed by the delightful Jenny Lee Stern’s perfect rendering of “Somewhere That’s Green” (Little Shop of Horrors); two songs that turn out to be weirdly similar in their appreciation of nature and their general optimism. Von Essen also sang from a show he once starred in, Dance of the Vampires, offering the lilting “For Sarah” to a live audience for the first time since a stake was driven through the show’s young heart in 2003.
The dynamic Brian Charles Rooney provided another fascinating comparison, reaching deep for the anthemic “I Am What I Am” (La Cage Aux Folles) then returning for an explosive “Sweet Transvestite” (The Rocky Horror Show); a drag entertainer proclaiming his worth versus a powerful, sexualized vamp. Rooney completed a flamboyant musical trifecta by night’s end, returning to sing the sad “Once Before I Go” from The Boy from Oz.
West coast transplant Ben Jones killed in the second act with two blow-out numbers, first channeling his inner Mandy Patinkin for the demanding “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues” (Follies) then belting a searing, poignant rendition of “Gethsemane” (Jesus Christ Superstar).
Rounding out the evening, the sultry Nicole Henry sang a captivating “After You’ve Gone” (One Mo’ Time), Lianne Marie Dobbs brought class to her task of balladizing “The Winner Takes It All” (Mamma Mia!) and special guest Tovah Feldshuh dusted off her Gypsy for an energetic swipe at “Some People.” As Mama Rose, she sang out what the happy audience knew all too well, “Anybody that stays home is dead!”
Broadway by the Year 2000-2004 – Created, Written, Directed and Hosted by Scott Siegel
WITH: Tovah Feldshuh, Max Von Essen, Nicole Henry, Danny Gardner, Lianne Marie Dobbs, Ben Jones, Jenny Lee Stern and Brian Charles Rooney.
Danny Gardner (Choreography), Ross Patterson (Music Director). Town Hall, 123 West 43rd St., http://thetownhall.org/broadway-by-the-year. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission.
Future Series Performances:
Monday, March 30, 8pm – Broadway by the Year 2005 – 2009
Monday, May 18, 8pm – Broadway by the Year 2010 – 2014
Monday, June 22, 8pm – Broadway by the Year 2015 – 2019