Throughout the years during which The Town Hall has presented the Broadway by the Year series, creator/writer/director/host Scott Siegel could be depended upon to come up with the right singers for songs selected from Broadway shows. Appealing performances are what have made the series so pleasurable--where else can you see so many talented people on the same program?--along with the versatile accompaniment contributions of music director/pianist Ross Patterson and his Little Big band.
In the latest show last night (March 25), which extracted numbers from 1943 in the first act and 1951 in the second act, the savvy choice of singers was as apparent as ever. Take “Oklahoma!” for example. That show revolutionized musical theater, so it was fitting to devote several numbers from it. Right off the bat William Michals emerged on stage to sing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.” Oh what a beautiful voice. Michals sang without a microphone as was the case when the show was first performed. He has such a powerful, thrilling voice and such dramatic command of a song that it was worth going just to hear him.
Also from “Oklahoma!” was “I Can’t Say No,” and Laurel Harris performed it with the deliberately corny accent and shy-horny flirtatious manner that captured the way it was done in the original. Matt Weinstein and Madeline Hamlet teamed on “Oklahoma!’s “All ‘Er Nothin’,” giving it a cute and lively rendition. Robert Cuccioli, who, in the Michals vein, also has a rich voice and can deliver lyrics with force, contributed “Lonely Room” from “Oklahoma!,” and he sang in a duo with the superb Jill Paice to give fresh emotion to “People Will Say We’re in Love,” another from “Oklahoma!”.
While that was the major show of 1943, there were other intriguing ones that yielded songs to explore. I have written enthusiastically about Oakley Boycott before. She’s an original with a style of her own in delivering a number. She showed that again last night singing an intriguing version of “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” from “One Touch of Venus.” Also from that production, “Speak Low” was sung by Darius de Haas, master of a soft and intimate style with ever-so-slow hand movements that help draw us into his orbit. “One Touch of Venus” also yielded “Very, Very, Very,” sung with a comedic edge by the very, very, very droll Stephen deRosa.
Another Broadway show in 1943 was “Something for the Boys,” which included a song with that title, and Laurel Harris gave it the flair needed to recall the spirit of that wartime era. It was “Oklahoma!” time again for the first act finale, and Michals returned to make the title number soar, with enhancement by the Broadway by the Year Chorus and the Broadway by the Year Dance Troupe.
Intermission time marched on with extra speed so that the audience came back to the year 1951. A major musical that year was “The King and I.” Darius de Haas sang “I Have Dreamed” with an aura of intense, intimate emotion, and Dongwoo Kang made a strong impression with “We Kiss in a Shadow.” Kelly Sheehan led “Shall We Dance?” from “The King and I,” with nicely choreographed partnering by the Broadway by the Year Dance Troupe.
The oddly titled show “Flahooley” included the song “Here’s to Your Illusions,” which Jill Paice sang. Paice has an exquisite soprano voice plus appealing stage presence, and she made the most of it interpreting that selection.
Two other chosen shows from 1951 were “Paint Your Wagon” and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” The second act began with Robert Cuccioli offering a rousing “They Call the Wind Maria,” the unusual love song from “Paint Your Wagon.” Also from that show was “Wand’rin’ Star,” sung, again with much feeling, by William Michals.
Jill Paice poured heart and soul into ‘Make the Man Love Me” from “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” That show also provided the opportunity for comedy and dancing via “I Like a New Broom.” Choreographer-dancer Danny Gardner, who choreographed this show in the series, did some fancy steps while having fun with a broom as a prop, including topping it with his jacket to make the broom suggest a dancing partner.
What do you think of the title “Bagels and Yox”? Yes, that was on Broadway in 1951, and to conclude the evening Stephen DeRosa came on with particular hilarity. I’m usually not one for appreciating an entertainer goosing an audience into singing. But DeRosa was riot performing “Chi-Ri-Bim” from "Bagels and Yox" and getting each side of the hall to sing the “bims and “bums” accompaniment, with DeRosa mischievously increasing the speed.
In addition to those mentioned, Holly Cruz served as staging consultant, Rick Hinkson as assistant director and assistant stage manager, and Joe Burke as production assistant. Members of the Ross Patterson band were Tom Hubbard on bass and Eric Halvorson on drums, led by Patterson at the piano.
The Broadway by the Year Chorus: Stephanie Bacastow, Oakley Boycott, Emma Camp, Pedro Coppeti, Madeline Hamlet, Emily Jones, Dongwoo Kang and Matt Weinstein.
The Broadway by the Year Tance troupe: Aaron Burr, Brad Frenette, Danny Gardner, Sally Glaze, Bryan Hunt, Brooke Lacy, Kim McClay, Kristyn Pope, Kelly Sheehan and John Wolfe. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed March 26, 2019.