In an unusual perspective, the Broadway by the Year series doubled down by covering time-spanning years of 1930 and 1964 in exploring songs of those periods in the program given at The Town Hall last night (February 26). Creator-writer-director-host Scott Siegel was especially informative and entertaining in illuminating the chosen songs in the context of the times. But it all came down to the quality of the performances, and as one has come to expect from the series, the cast was choice.
There were some last minute substitutions to make up for a few who had to bow out for various reasons, but what a sparkling show those who were previously scheduled and those who stepped in put on! Siegel assembled top notch talent who gave the audience a consistently entertaining time.
The women included the exceptional Tonya Pinkins, Christine Andreas and Christiane Noll. As for the men, Scott Coulter, Mark Nadler and the Brazilian singer Pedro Coppeti were show-stealers. To add further sparkle, there was the dancing, choreographed by Danny Gardner, who performed stylishly with Kelly Sheehan, Drew Humphrey and Bryan Hunt.
The 1930s, marked by the trauma of the 1929 stock market crash, produced songs that tried to be uplifting. Pinkins soared with her interpretation of “Get Happy” from the “Nine-Fifteen Revue.” Coulter gave the audience “The Sunny Side of the Street” from “Lew Leslie’s International Revue.” But there was also a general mix reflecting the range of 1930s numbers and shows.
Noll, who sings with perfection, performed “But Not for Me” from “Girl Crazy,” as well as poignantly singing “Love for Sale” from “The New Yorkers.” It was moving to hear Pinkins do “Body and Soul” from “Three’s a Crowd.” There was real class in Andreas and Gardner teaming for “Dancing on the Ceiling,” a number that had been cut from “Simple Simon.”
The lure of Manhattan was expressed when dynamic Nadler took over the stage to sing “I Happen to like New York” from “The New Yorkers.” (More about Nadler later.) Coulter also pitched in with “Take Me Back to Manhattan,” also from “The New Yorkers.” Coulter, always a favorite, showed even more range than usual in his numbers. A perfect first act closing that sent audiences out on a high at intermission was a rousing “I Got Rhythm” from “Girl Crazy,” sung and tap danced by Gardner, Humphrey and Hunt.
The 1964 songs and shows featured in Act 2 were markedly different, as the year yielded major long-running hits establishing a new Broadway era. “Hello, Dolly!” gave Pinkins another chance to exhibit her vocal power with “Before the Parade Passes By.” Coulter mined that show for an exquisite rendition of “It Only Takes a Moment.” It was a special treat to hear Andreas interpret “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from "Funny Girl,” a show also represented by Noll impressively singing “Who Are You Now?”
“Anyone Can Whistle,” a favorite of many if underrated at the time, enabled Noll to deliver the rapid-fire lyrics with “Everybody Says Don’t.” Pinkins dramatically demonstrated why “Night Song” from “Golden Boy” merits remembering. Gardner and Sheehan sang and danced to “I had a Ball” from the show of the same name.
Then there was the matter of the great show “Fiddler on the Roof.” The Brazilian Coppeti pleased the audience with “If I Were a Rich Man,” even singing a section in Portuguese. And he did it without a mike. And then there was Nadler, also without a mike (as if he ever really needs one). Nadler, a whirlwind force, sang “To Life” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” with an abundance of gestures and flair.
All, of course, was performed to skills of musical director Ross Patterson, at the piano with Tom Hubbard on bass and Eric Halvorson on drums, forming the “Little Big Band.” The evening ended with a rousing finish harking back to 1930 with “Strike up the Band” from the show of that title, with dancing by Gardner, Sheehan, Humphrey and Hunt, and even a special brass quartet consisting of Frank Huber and Andrew Smith on trumpets, and Dan Lehner and Brandon Moodie on trombones. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-997-1003. Reviewed February 27, 2018.