There was an emotional moment before the start of the latest Broadway by the Year series mining shows of 1928 and 1935, presented last night (February 25, 2019) by The Town Hall. Scott Siegel, creator, writer, director and host of the series walked from the wings to center stage with cane in hand. Suffering a broken pelvis in a bicycle accident, he has been on the long road to recovery and had just been able to replace crutches with the cane. Now he wanted to thank everyone in the audience and beyond who had voiced support and even sent donations to a fund that others set up to pay for his unusual expenses, including rental of a temporary apartment because he couldn’t navigate steps to his regular one. Audience members rose to give a standing ovation to Siegel, who has become beloved by fans of the Broadway by the Year series, now in its 19th season, as well as for shows Siegel has produced at Feinstein’s/54 Below and other venues.
Then the fun began. After Siegel gave his customary erudite introduction of what was going on in 1928, there was a smash “Crazy Rhythm” number from “Here’s Howe,” choreographed by the excellent dancer Danny Gardner, who led tapping by members of the Broadway by the Year Dance Troupe, including expert men and classy looking high- kicking women. Dancers included Bailey Callahan, Katelyn Gaffney, Alicia Jin, Melinda Moeller, Danelle Morgan, Elizabeth Peterson, Drew Humphrey, Bryan Hunt, Danny McHugh and Daniel Plimpton.
The crowd-pleasing launch was followed by “Wanting You” from the operetta “The New Moon,” sung superbly without amplification, as was the norm in 1928, by rich-voiced opera and Broadway star John Easterlin and soprano Ali Ewoldt, also with strong Broadway credentials.
One can always depend on a cast including top-notch singers at Broadway by the Year shows. Among the stars at this session was “Chuck Cooper,” currently in “Choir Boy.” In Act One he gave his own sexy twist to “Makin’ Whoopee,” sung by Eddie Cantor in the musical “Whoopee!.” In Act Two he shone with “I Got Plenty o’Nuttin’” from the landmark 1935 musical “Porgy and Bess,” and the amusing “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” also from “Porgy and Bess.”
Easterlin, unplugged, led the Broadway by the Year Chorus, also unplugged, in singing the iconic “Stout-hearted Men” from “The New Moon.” Other male performers included Broadway stars Quentin Earl Darrington and Kyle Selig. Darrington, currently playing Agwe, the God of Water in “Once on This island,” did an exquisite job in Act One without a mike singing “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise” from “The New Moon.” In Act Two he also stood out singing “My Romance” from “Jumbo.” Selig, with “Mean Girls: The Musical” and “The Book of Mormon” credits, is a young performer with a casual air, and it was a delight to hear him connect smoothly singing old numbers that became standards, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” from the show “Blackbirds of 1928,” and “Just One of Those Things” from the 1935 “Jubilee,” as well as teaming with Erika Henningsen on “Over and Over Again” from “Jumbo.”
Henningsen, currently starring on Broadway as Cady Heron in “Mean Girls,” gave her interpretations of “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love” from the 1928 show “Paris” and “Red Sails in the Sunset” from the 1935 “Provincetown Follies.” Emily Janes dramatically sang "Love Me or Leave Me” from “Whoopee!”
I found Ali Ewoldt especially a standout. She thrilled with her soprano voice singing “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess” without a mike, and also packed emotion into “Lover, Come Back to Me” from “The New Moon.”
There is generally a special sense of fun in some of the numbers in the series. The Broadway by the Year Chorus amused singing unplugged “Hello, I Must be Going” from “Animal Crackers,” which starred the Marx Brothers. Also enjoyable was “Got a Bran’ New Suit” from “At Home Abroad,” with various men discovering that the same girl had provided new suits to guys who think they are the one and only. The number turned into a tap treat by Danny Gardner and four members of the Dance Troupe—Drew Humphrey, Bryan Hunt, Danny McHugh and Kelly Sheehan.
The show ended with a lavish treatment of “Begin the Beguine” from “Jubilee,” with a dancing mix of tap and ballroom choreographed and performed by Gardner with the Dance Troupe, this time consisting of Darien Crago, Blair Ely, Kim McClay, Corrine Munsch, Kelly Sheehan, Drew Humphrey, Bryan Hunt, Danny McHugh and Daniel Plimpton.
Siegel made a point of thanking Ross Patterson, pianist and musical director, who has been with the series from the very beginning. Along with Patterson at the piano in his “Little Big Band” last night were Tom Hubbard on bass and Eric Halvorson on drums. Gardner did the choreography, Holly Cruz was staging consultant, Rick Hinkson was assistant director and assistant stage manager, and Joe Burke was production assistant. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed February 26, 2019.