Broadway By The Year begins its 15th season with a bang-up concert offering talent drawn from diverse vocal geography. Plumbing this rich period, impresario Scott Siegel delivers operetta, comedy, ballads, blues, torch, and terrific tap dancing. As always, numbers from the iconic to the eclectic are briefly introduced with illuminating anecdote or context. Some highlights follow.
Sidney Meyer’s bankably charming rendition of “They Go Wild, Simply Wild” (Irene) creates character and situation with low key brio. Meyer’s simple, expressive gestures and innocent expression is pitch perfect for the lyric. The artist is unique. Karen Ziemba conveys just the right devil may care attitude with her exuberant, kick n’ shimmy version of “Charleston” (Runnin’ Wild.) As played and sung by the incomparable Steve Ross, “Say It With Music” (Music Box Revue of 1921) is understated and lovely, a master class in phrasing and apt sentiment.
The vocalist scheduled to perform Irving Berlin’s “Pack Up Your Sins and Go to The Devil” (Music Box Revue of 1922) was unable to appear. Instead, we’re treated to Danny Gardner’s tap improvisation to the music. Gardner has the authoritative moves of Gene Kelly and humorous, visual finesse evoking Ray Bolger. Later, he and Aleka Emerson execute an infectiously jaunty “Varsity Drag” (Good News). Every year I wonder why this man is not featured on Broadway.
Rudolf Friml’s The Vagabond King and Sigmund Romberg’s Desert Song are respectively represented by John Easterlin and William Michaels. Only performers of this caliber can keep chestnuts from falling with a clunk. Easterlin’s earnest, skillfully modulated tenor lends his song gravitas while Michaels imbues his with palpable, barely contained emotion. When the otherwise still Michaels finally opens his arms “This would be a magic world for me, if she were mine,” we share the warmth and necessity of gesture.
“St. Louis Blues” (Blackbirds of 1928) tears through Lumiri Tubo exiting in snaps, spits and growls. “Oh, ashes to ashes and dust to dust/I said ashes to ashes and dust to dust/If my blues don’t get you, my jazzing must.” Pain and anger are reflected in a slow march back and forth across the stage. Tubo bounces and bends, an arm shoots out, yet nothing feels gratuitous. Tonya Pinkins’ “The Thrill is Gone”(George White’s Scandals 1931) brims with bitterness despite mid-tempo arrangement. It’s as if the outside world is oblivious to her feelings as embodied by elongated phrasing. A beautiful vocal. Curiously, the song was introduced by Rudy Vallee and His Connecticut Yankees.
Stephen Bogardus gives us a confident, swoony “Night and Day” (The Gay Divorcee) evoking white ties and moonlight while John Bolton’s engagingly guileless “It’s De-Lovely” (Red, Hot, and Blue) conjures PG Wodehouse tales, straw boaters, and running boards. He’s rakish and adorable. To my mind the centerpiece of the evening, Chuck Cooper’s interpretation of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” (Porgy and Bess) showcases seemingly effortless baritone with non-preachy gospel coloring. This is storytelling at its best. Cooper inflects the lyrics with just a bit of eyebrow-raising mischief. Insinuating verse and precise, scatted chorus are equally as effective. The performer turns on a dime leaving a memorable echo.
A smoky “Where or When” (Babes in Arms) is enacted by Karen Akers who sings “to” someone just out of sight. Akers doesn’t merely perform, she inhabits the character creating empathy. Even between vocals, the artist holds us fast. A little resigned shrug speaks volumes. Musical arrangement is captivating.
Emily Skinner’s “No, You Can’t Have My Heart” (You Never Know) is sheer torch. Skinner renders the song at the gravitas end of contralto, scaling up with fluency. “In my opinion, living in sin/Is like drinking gin/With the bitters left out/And the jitters left in.” The last verse- hurts. An enchanting duet of “It Never Was You” (Knickerbocker Holiday) with William Michaels follows. The singers relate to one another past melding voices suffusing the stage with yearning.
Another Broadway By The Year of lively entertainment and diverse talent.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Opening: Danny Gardner & Aleka Emerson
1. Sidney Meyer; Karen Ziemba
2. Lumiri Tubo; Tonya Pinkins
3.John Bolton; Chuck Cooper
4. Emily Skinner; William Michaels
Broadway By The Year presents
The Broadway Musicals of 1916-1940
Created, Written & Hosted by Scott Siegel
Directed & Choreographed by Mindy Cooper
Choreography –for himself- Danny Gardner
Music Direction-Ross Patterson
Ross Patterson-Piano, Randy Landau-Bass, Jamie Eblen-Drums
Broadway By The Year Chorus
The Town Hall 123 West 43rd Street
February 23, 2015
NEXT: March 30, 2015 at 8 p.m. THE BROADWAY MUSICALS OF 1941-1965