By Edward Kliszus
Tonight’s Broadway Valentine’s Day at 54 Below was an evening of love, song, romance, nostalgia, fine dining, unique beverages, and thematic desserts. The messages of love portrayed were universal, celebrating spiritual beings connected through energy, generosity, compassion, and harmony. As Shakespeare noted in Love’s Labour’s Lost, “When Love speaks, the voice of all the gods makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.”
Host, musical director, singer, and piano accompanist extraordinaire Drew Wutke began with a charming, humorous version of Eric Carmen’s All By Myself, followed by his hilarious rendition of Jimmy McHugh’s I Can’t Give You Anything But Love. Throughout the evening, Wutke, our exuberant, talented host, introduced each pair of artists and asked them to share personal anecdotes of how they met and grew together. This was an event of personal, touching insights into the lives of gifted artists, a rare treat for an audience and admirers.
Each couple explained how they first connected. Some met as students, on the cast of the same stage production, or on Instagram, which was described as a secret dating site. Others shared stories of love at first sight, their wedding songs and children, years of sharing happiness, how and when they first came to New York, and what they like to do when they’re not performing. Through the generosity of their shared stories and songs, we experienced rich segments of their lives.
David LaMarr and Darnell White opened the show with the stirring Nicolas Ashford’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. Liana Hunt and Larkin Bogan, who had met at NYU as students, performed Stephen Schwartz’s Love Song from Pippin, which became the song accompanying their “walk down the aisle.” Jesse Hooker Baily and Larkin Bogan, who met at the Milwaukee Rep, sang Brenda Russel’s R&B song Any Little Thing from The Color Purple. Josh Riley stood in for Aaron DeJesus, who was unavoidably absent, and accompanied and sang with Gail Bennett a medley of two songs, Steven Lutvak’s Sibella and Frank Wildhorn’s It’s a Dangerous Game. Bennett and DeJesus have been married for 16 years!
Jorian Kwamé and Jacob Lindquist sang the gentle, intimate Best Part by Daniel Cesar and described their at-home rehearsals. Kyra Kennedy and Alex Branton performed the eclectic Alan Menken’s Suddenly Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors. Kennedy and Branton first discovered each other on Instagram. Eric Chambliss and Nicole Ferguson first met in Clinton, Iowa, and admitted to being “desperately in love” as they sang Ed Sheeran’s deeply personal Best Part of Me. When Eric Chambliss and Nicole Ferguson hugged each other as part of a play as cast members, they knew they belonged together. Chambliss accompanied them on the guitar as they sang the pensive, evocative, I Will Follow You Into The Dark by Ben Gibbard—they’ve been married for five years.
The bespoke and humorous duo Kelvin Moon Loh and Anthony Fett sang Love Will Keep Us Together by Neil Sedaka and of Captain and Tennille fame. Brynn Williams and Gerald Jordan closed out the evening with a dramatic, heartfelt medley of songs from Ragtime, including Sarah Brown Eyes and Wheels of a Dream by Stephen Flaherty.
Audience members sighed, nodded, quietly sang along, and clapped throughout the evening. Smiling and embraces filled the space.
A Broadway Valentine’s Day!
Musical Direction by Drew Wutke
Produced by Jen Sandler
Jessie Hooker-Bailey (Waitress, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) and Gilbert L. Bailey II (A Bronx Tale, Beetlejuice)
Eric Chambliss (Jersey Boys, Fiddler on the Roof) and Nicole Ferguson (My Fair Lady, Merrily We Roll Along)
Aaron De Jesus (Jersey Boys, Disney’s The Lion King) and Gail Bennett (Anastasia, Disney’s Mary Poppins) (Josh Riley stood in for Aaron De Jesus this evening)
Liana Hunt (Disney’s Newsies, Mamma Mia!) and Larkin Bogan (Wicked, Hair)
Kyra Kennedy (Waitress, Mystic Pizza) and Alex Branton (Cinderella)
Joriah Kwamé (Little Miss Perfect) and Jacob Lindquist (Little Miss Perfect)
David LaMarr (Jersey Boys) and Darnell White (Revelation The Musical)
Kelvin Moon Loh (Beetlejuice, SpongeBob SquarePants) and Anthony Fett (Beauty and the Beast, Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding)
Eric William Morris (King Kong, Mamma Mia!) and Alyse Alan Louis (Soft Power, Mamma Mia!, Amélie)
Brynn Williams (SpongeBob SquarePants, 13) and Gerald Jordan (Rocky)
Runtime 90 minutes
54 West 54th St. Cellar
New York, NY 10019
For the calendar and tickets: https://54below.com/calendar/
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Tony Kadleck Big Band at Birdland, The Village! A Disco Daydream at Dixon Place, Conrad Herwig and the Latin Side All-Stars at The Django, and Cotenna Italian Restaurant in the West Village.