Broadway Backwards Surges Forward

In 2021 many New York theater-goers caught a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company that changed the male lead Bobby to a female lead Bobbie, and cast two men as the “not-getting-married-today” couple.

But that was no big deal to the producers of the annual one-night-stand revue called Broadway Backwards. They’ve been gender-switching famous show tunes for eighteen years.

The 2024 sold-out production was staged in March at the New Amsterdam theater, on a Monday night when Disney’s Aladdin was dark. (More about that synergy in a moment.) 

The opening number was “Luck Be a Lady,” from the floating crap game in Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls, but with the gamblers all women in constant motion (choreographed by Skye Mattox), and Julie Benko insisting that Lady Luck “stick with me, baby, I’m the doll that you came in with.” The second act’s big number was “Be Italian,” from Maury Yeston’s Nine (choreographed by writer/director Robert Bartly and Adam Roberts), featuring Bradley Dean and a beefcake ensemble of mafiosi.

But this big, loud production (101 performers, 13 musicians) isn’t non-stop production-numbers. The intimate scenes are poignant, many of them turning on the moment when someone realizes who they truly are. A wistful Tony Yazbeck recalls his first crush (from Craig Carnellia’s Is There Life After High School?) on a day when—ostensibly—“Nothing Really Happened.” Len Cariou and Chip Zien share a park bench and a late-in-life connection over a pineapple, in Kandor & Ebb’s “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” from Cabaret.

Len Cariou (l.) and Chip Zien (Photo by Rebecca J. Michelson)

Shoutout to Tituss Burgess for a spellbinding rendition of the Gershwin brothers’ “I Loves You Porgy,” full-throatedly declaring “I’s your woman now.” And to Robin de Jesus for his homage to the late Chita Rivera. In the 1960 premiere of Charles Strauss and Lee Adams’s Bye Bye Birdie, Rivera’s character longed to be the wife of “An English Teacher.” 

The most heart-rending scene, however, was built around “Listen,” by Henry Krieger, Scott Cutler, Samantha Worley and Anne Preven, from Dreamgirls. A mother (Morgana Shaw) and father (Daniel Marmion) show up at Gallaudet University to take their deaf son (John McGinty) home, and discover he’s in love with his dorm-mate (Jordan Fisher). When the mother shrieks, “One affliction is enough!” McGinty signs as Fisher sings their love-affirming rebuke.

M.C. Jenn Colella’s snappy repartee between scenes was full of LGBTQ-positive one-liners. With more men than women in the audience, she called the long men’s-room line “bathroom backwards.” 

The show is a fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. Writer/director Robert Bartley came on to thank the sponsors and donors for bringing in a record-setting $917,651. He also thanked his huge production team—far too many people to cite here.

Aladdin stars Courtney Reed and Shoba Narayan (the original and subsequent Jasmine) shared the flying carpet in the duet “A Whole New World” by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Bartley thanked Disney for loaning them the New Amsterdam, and particularly thanked the crew of Aladdin for coming in on an otherwise dark night and flying that carpet around the stage!

Many tickets are awarded to the sponsors; the rest sell out quickly. But be assured, Broadway Backwards will fly again in 2025.

Opening photo by Curtis Brown, from “Luck Be a Lady.” A video of the entire number is on YouTube. (The AI-generated subtitles are distracting, and do not render the lyrics correctly. Click on “Settings” to toggle them off.) 

For more information visit the website for Broadway Cares.

About Hal Glatzer (10 Articles)
Hal Glatzer is a performer, journalist, novelist and playwright. He has been singing all his life. Nowadays, he plays guitar and sings from "the Great American Songbook"the hits of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway. Hal started in journalism in the 1970s as a daily newspaper reporter, and moved into TV news. But he focused on the rise of the computer industry, and stayed on that beat until the mid-'90s when, ironically, the internet killed the market for high-tech journalists. So he turned to writing mystery fiction, starting with a tale of a hacker who gets in trouble with organized crime. He next wrote a series featuring a working musician in the years leading up to World War II, whose gigs land her in danger. During the pandemic, he penned some new adventures of Sherlock Holmes. His stage plays are mysteries too: one with Holmes and one with Charlie Chan. More often, though, he writes (and produces) audio-plays, performed in old-time-radio style. A grateful product of the New York City public schools, including Bronx Science, he moved away from the city for many years, but returned in 2022 to live on his native island, Manhattan.