One of the contributions to the theater that writer-director-host Scott Siegel makes is the annual “Broadway Unplugged” show that he has created. It honors outstanding voices and the old tradition of singing on Broadway without microphones, as was the case before amplification took over in the 1960s. Last night (October 13, 2018) Siegel presented at Merkin Concert Hall his 17th annual unplugged event. Once again an impressive group of singers showed us dazzling vocal purity in no need of mikes.
There couldn’t have been a more auspicious start than Farah Alvin giving a supercharged rendition of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from “Funny Girl.” No amplification needed here. Alvin in manner and vocal power lit up the stage. Before the audience could recover from her pleasing assault, Klea Blackhurst followed with her dynamic rendition of “Anything Goes” in her Merman-like voice.
The other female stars of the evening were Kelli Barrett, Lisa Howard and Jillian Louis. Barrett illuminated “Not a Day Goes By” from “Merrily We Roll Along” and “I Dreamed a Dream from “Les Miserables.” Lisa Howard, another with an exceptionally strong voice,” entertained with “Children of the Wind” from “Rags” and “I Have Found” from “Infinite Joy.”
Jillian Louis is thoroughly an original. First, appearing in a black and white mini dress, she adopted a Lolita-like manner and come-on voice to cutely sing “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” from “Crazy for You”—different from any way I’ve heard it sung before. In a second appearance she demonstrated versatility by switching into an entirely different mode dramatically performing “Maybe This Time” from “Cabaret.”
As for the male performers, they included Brian Charles Rooney, John Easterlin, Chuck Cooper, Michael Winther and Aaron Ramey, all with powerhouse voices. Cooper provided the night’s comic coup, hilariously singing in laid-back style the condemning verses of “Your Feet’s Too Big” from “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
Rooney scored with “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” from “One Touch of Venus” and the poignant “Bring Him Hone” from “Les Miserables.” Ramey impressively contributed “Soliloquy” from “Carousel,” providing much feeling to musing about the joys of having a son born into the world and watching him grow up, and then wondering what if the offspring turns out to be a girl. Winther applied his impressive voice singing “You’re Just in Love’ from “Call Me Madam” in a duet with Blackhurst.
Easterlin has a voice that is dramatically operatic, and he thrilled the crowd by singing “And This is My Beloved” from “Kismet” and “Without a Song” from “Great Day.” In an evening of loud audience applause response, his greeting was among the loudest.
Siegel gave his usual erudite introductions, just as he does in his “Broadway by the Year” series. The production ended with "Lullaby of Broadway” sung by the Broadway by the Year Chorus, consisting of young talent nurtured by Siegel. He introduced each one of them—Stephanie Bacastow, Annette Berning, Emma Camp, Pedro Coppeti, Elisa Galindez, Emily Janes, Dongwoo DW Kang, Philippa Lynas, Jacob Pressley, Ashley Ryan and Joseph Valle-Hoag. After the chorus did its thing, the entire company came on stage to join in continuing to sing “Lullaby of Broadway.”
The band consisted of Siegel’s long-time musical director, Ross Patterson, also performing his customary wizardry at the piano, Randy Landau on bass and Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf on cello. Other credits: Holly Cruz, musical staging, Rick Hinkson, assistant director and stage manager, and Joe Burke, assistant stage manager. At Merkin Concert Hall, 129 West 67th Street. Reviewed October 14, 2018.