Broadway by the Year," the unique "cabaret concert" series that includes commentary and show tunes, kicks off its 2002 season March 18 with Mary Testa, George Dvorsky, Mary Bond Davis, Anne Runolfsson and Marc Coffin singing The Broadway Musicals of 1933.
Ross Patterson musical directs the intimate evening, and Ray Roderick directs. Expect highlights from 1933's As Thousands Cheer, Let 'Em Eat Cake, Pardon My English, Roberta, Melody, The Three Penny Opera and more.
The series, created and hosted by journalist and critic Scott Siegel, is available by subscription and has proved so hot that two-thirds of the seats for the run are sold out. Much like subscriptions at other theatres, subscribers get first crack at getting the same seat in future seasons.
The series was tested in 2001 with Siegel's The Broadway Musicals of 1957 and The Broadway Musicals of 1943 under the umbrella of "Musicals on Broadway." Siegel, an arts journalist and critic, will again write and host the presentations — offering tart, illuminating commentary and historical perspective. Broadway and cabaret artists perform in a format that includes a little bit of history and a lot of music.
The 2002 season includes The Broadway Musicals of 1940 (April 15), ...1951 (May 13) and ...1964 (June 10). The concerts play 8 PM Monday evenings — traditionally, a day off for Broadway actors. Subsequent shows in 2002 will feature Bryan Batt, Natalie Douglas, Julie Reyburn, Chip Zien, Alison Fraser, Davis Gaines, Amanda McBroom, Tom Andersen, Brent Barrett, Liz Callaway, Richard Skipper (playing Carol Channing in the 1964 season, honoring Hello, Dolly!), Steven Brinberg (playing his "Simply Barbara" routine in tribute to Funny Girl), and more to be announced.
Upcoming highlights will include Pal Joey, Higher and Higher, Louisiana Purchase, Cabin in the Sky, Panama Hattie, Walk With Music (1940), The King and I, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Paint Your Wagon, Top Banana, Flahooley (1951), Hello, Dolly!, What Makes Sammy Run?, Funny Girl, Fade Out-Fade In, Anyone Can Whistle, High Spirits, Fiddler on the Roof, Golden Boy (1964) and more.
Siegel said he learned a lot from the 2001 concerts.
"We still face the same dilemma, which is, finding that balance between the little lost nuggets of wonderful music that nobody knows and the familiar songs that everyone knows that they would love to hear again," Siegel said.
He points out that the goal of the "Broadway by the Year" cabaret concerts is not offer original orchestrations or precise re enactments of musical theatre moments, but the essence. Piano and bass will be the core instrumentation at each show, with more pieces added as dictated by the material.
"There are certain songs you just shouldn't mess with," Siegel said. "But one of the great things about Broadway songs are their elasticity. Why not come up with a new way? We took a lot of liberties with Jason Graae singing [Carmen Jones'] 'Stand Up and Fight' as a gay number, a comedy number. It was very funny. I think you have to be more careful with the songs that are favorites."
Siegel reminds the theatregoers that not every song heard will be a hit song, but his aim is to make sure they land. "What I'm looking for from these performances are showstopping moments, not only from the musicals but from the way we present them," Siegel said.
Fans of theatre music viewed the new series in 2001 as a chance to get in on the ground floor of a potentially hot new addition to the popular show-tune concerts that have proliferated in Manhattan. Encores!, Musicals Tonite, Lyrics and Lyricists represent competition and have different goals and structures.
Tickets to each cabaret concert are $35, with 20 percent off the total if all four shows are bought at once. For information, call (212) 840-2824 or Ticketmaster at (212) 307-4100, or visit www.the townhall-nyc.org.
The Town Hall offers eclectic programming — lectures, film, dance, rock, comedy, theatre and more — year round. About 90 percent of the work seen there is by rental arrangement. The new "Broadway by the Year" series is produced by The Town Hall. Siegel is host of The Town Hall's film series. Wealthy suffragists built The Town Hall — designed by McKim, Mead and White — in 1921 as a place to meet, share ideas and hear speakers. It was a setting for "town meetings" that were broadcast by NBC. The hall's acoustics proved prime for concerts and the building evolved into a concert and performance house over the years. New York University helped revive the space in the 1970s as its current multi-disciplinary house. It achieved landmark status in 1978.
— By Kenneth Jones