By Victoria L. Dammer
On Monday May 23rd, The Town Hall presented an amazing line-up of talent for their 21st landmark season of Broadway by the Year. Created, written, directed, and hosted by talented Scott Siegel, the audience settled in for a musical journey that did not disappoint with an array of special performances that spanned from Ziegfeld to the Moulin Rouge.
Siegel opened the show with a history of the musical review, which ended in the sixties, describing Ziegfeld’s era as “The Glory Years.” After the musical review came the era of The Jukebox. The evening lineup included Tony Danza, John Easterlin, Melissa Errico, Danny Gardner, Ryan Knowles, Douglas Ladnier, Anais Reno and Hayley Swindal. Piano, cello, and drums accompanied the performances.
Grammy Award winner and international opera sensation John Easterlin performed the first song, “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” accompanied by The Broadway by the Year Dance Troupe (BBTY Dance Troup). Written by Irving Berlin in 1919, the song became the centerpiece musical number in the 1936 film “The Great Ziegfeld.” Movie aficionados can well remember the grandeur of the set of this movie, with the spiral staircase which looked like a white wedding cake and the dancers ascending the steps in breathtaking costumes. This wonderful number got the audience revved up for more. Later in the show, Easterlin sang another Berlin favorite, “The Girl on the Magazine Cover,” the way it was meant to be performed, without a mic. His voice soared through the theater and received a thumping round of applause.
Award-winning Broadway singer Douglas Ladnier serenaded the crowd with 3 powerful, iconic songs from the ’60s. His first song, “Both Sides Now,” was written by Joni Mitchell and first recorded by Judy Collins. His soulful rendition of “Yesterday,” written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and released in 1965, was hauntingly beautiful. He ended the show with Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” a tune he wrote in 1966 for his son.
Melissa Errico, known as the “Maria Callas of American musical theater,” told a personal story about her Aunt Rose and her interactions with Ziegfeld. Errico performed a powerful rendition of lyricist Howard Dietz and composer Arthur Schwartz’s 1931 hit “Confessions,” followed by Oscar Hammersteins’ “Life Upon the Wicked Stage,” from the 1927 stage musical “Show Boat.”
Choreographer and stage star Danny Gardner’s talent showed in his singing and tap dancing, with the help of the BBTY dance troupe, in the number “Dancing in the Dark.”
Making her Town Hall debut was 18-year-old Anais Reno, winner of the 2016 Forte International Competition’s Platinum Award at Carnegie Hall. Reno has a smoky, sultry alto voice and swayed to the orchestra’s renditions of “Stardust” and “Caravan.” The applause was over-the-top for this young sensation.
The deep, booming voice of the singer, writer and comedian Ryan Knowles was resounding. He sang, “Brother Can you Spare a Dime” and “Everything Old is New Again.” But the real treat was his rendition of Merle Travis’s “Sixteen Tons,” made famous when Johnny Cash changed the original version to country. After the show, he shared a conversation with Danza, remarking, “What an incredible line-up of talent was on stage tonight.”
Hayley Swindal, with the BBTY Dance Troup, performed “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” dressed in her most Marilyn Monroe style gown with diamonds dripping off her and the group, choreographed by Danny Gardner. Swindal’s voice was astounding with her rendition of “Cabaret.”
A most pleasant surprise was the comedy, tap dancing, and singing of the multi-talented Tony Danza, who hales from one of the other boroughs, Brooklyn. The accent hasn’t changed after all his decades in show business. He told a personal story about his mom, who loved Sinatra, and the time he introduced her to Ol’Blue Eyes. The audience cracked up at his humor. But when you closed your eyes while he sang “How About You?” you could swear Sinatra was on stage at The Town Hall. There was thunderous applause.
My advice is don’t miss the upcoming Broadway By The Years events on June 27th and September 19th. They will be crowd-pleasers and a wonderful way to walk down the music memory lane.
The Town Hall presents Broadway By The Year: From Ziegfeld to Moulin Rouge” in its 21st landmark season. Created, written, directed, and hosted by Scott Siegel; musical director Ross Patterson; The Broadway by the Year Dance Troup choreographed & led by Danny Gardner; sheet music consultant Michael Lavine; supported by Bank of America and additional support by the Edythe Kenner Foundation; press by Keith Sherman & Associates Inc.
Tickets are available at Town Hall Ticket sales. Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street, NYC.