Some shows flopped, but produced memorable songs, and some numbers emerged from hits. In the 19th year of the Broadway by the Year series, created, written, hosted and directed by Scott Siegel, the years 1965 and 1978 were mined for the latest program presented by The Town Hall (May 20, 2019). As expected based on solid past achievements, the show featured a strong team of talented singers, with much expert dancing also adding to audience appeal.
Two women were especially impressive. The show “Drat the Cat!” (1965) has long since been forgotten, but Lianne Marie Dobbs sexily delivered its number “He Touched Me.” The character she expressed in song thrilled to being touched and sang as if she certainly wouldn’t mind if Joe Biden grabbed her by the shoulders. With a great voice and stage presence to match, Dobbs also delivered royally in singing “Keepin’ Out of Mischief” from “Ain’t Misbehavin’” (1978) and also “It's All the Same” from “Man of La Mancha” (1965), abetted on that one by Jake Owen on guitar and snappy footwork by the Broadway by the Year Dance Troupe, choreographed by Danny Gardner.
I also can’t say enough about Nicole Henry, who can establish heightened intimacy with everything she sings, whether slow and dreamy or under-your-skin provocative. Her “Honeysuckle Rose” from “Ain’t Misbehavin’” was breathtakingly sexy, and she extracted great depth from “Mean to Me,” another from “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” She also gave a delightful rendition of “Feeling Good” from “The Roar of the Greasepaint--The Smell of the Crowd” (1965).
Among the men, Douglas Ladnier demonstrated once again the power he can bring to a song, as with his thrilling show-closer, “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of LaMancha,” and before that his strong interpretation of “Stranger in Paradise" from “Timbucktu!” (1978) and the melancholy “Hard Candy Christmas” from “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (1978).
Siegel scored a casting coup in getting Ethan Slater, who appeared as SpungeBob in “SpungeBob Squarepants.” He demonstrated his special talent singing “A Wonderful Day Like Today” from “The Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd,” “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” from the show of the same title (1965), and “If I Ruled the World” from “Pickwick” (1965).
This show had more than usual dancing. For example, Corbin Bleu and Rick Faugno wowed the audience with their fast-stepping to “Sing Sing Sing” from “Dancin’” (1978). Faugno choreographed the number. Danny Gardner did the choreography for two dynamic numbers, “Nothing Can stop Me Now” from “the Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd” and also was lead singer and dancer in “I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man” from “Dancin’.” Both numbers featured the superb Broadway by the Year Dance Troupe, including Lamont Brown, Bailey Callahan, Gardner, Bryan Hunt, Brooke Lacy, Lily Lewis, Danny McHugh, Kelly Sheehan and Michael J. Verre.
Recently I saw Betsy Wolfe perform as half of a New jersey couple being targeted by the con man in “High Button Shoes,” revived by New York City Center Encores! In that show Wolfe, teamed with Chester Gregory in “I Still Get Jealous,” with the original choreography of Jerome Robbins. Now here she was again with Broadway by the Year showing off her voice with the diverse numbers “A Quiet Thing” from “Flora, The Red Menace” (1965), “Someone Woke Up” from “Do I Hear a Waltz?” (1965) and “Doatsy Mae” from “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
A highlight of the series is always Scott Siegel’s entertaining well-researched recounting of what was going on in the world in the years selected for surveying Broadway musicals. Also, I am always amazed at how musical director and pianist Ross Patterson excels with the great variety of musical styles and demands in providing the accompaniment by his Little Big Band, which included Don Falzone on bass and Eric Halvorson on drums. Patterson, who always looks as if he is enjoying the task, has been with the series for all of its 19 years.
Others making contributions included Holly Cruz as staging consultant, Rick Hinkson as assistant director and assistant stage manager and Joe Burke as production assistant. Siegel always makes a point of extending thanks for the participation of his wife, Barbara, and on this occasion, taking off from one of the songs, the way he put it was that “If I Ruled the World,” everyone would have a mate like Barbara. At The Town Hall. 123 West 43rd Street. Phone: 800-982-2787. Reviewed May 21, 2019.