By Ben Rimalower
01 Apr 2014
The first performance of the night was Hair star (and "The Voice" favorite) Sasha Allen singing "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." She began by explaining that, as a black girl, she could never be a Jersey boy, before sailing into the iconic melody with confidence and ease. My initial thought was that she wasn't the first black girl to essay the challenging tune, as I've been playing and replaying Mary Wilson's terrific version for Diana Ross And The Supremes. But Allen soon put thoughts of all previous recordings (including Wilson, Tony winner John Lloyd Young and Frankie Valli himself) to shame, establishing the basic melody, first, before embellishing with some appealing riffs and ultimately just blowing the roof off the cavernous hall. Allen was even more impressive, later in the program, singing Jean Valjean's "Bring Him Home" from Les Misérables. It began like a prayer, ended like a showstopper and surely earned Allen a number of new fans.
The other peak of the evening was Jeremy Jordan, who sang two songs, first "Let It Go" from "Frozen" and then to close the show, a medley of "Over The Rainbow" from "The Wizard of Oz" and "Home" from The Wiz. Jordan began by humorously complaining about being one-upped by Jonathan Groff in last year's Miscast and how Groff always beats him out for roles, but that tonight, with Groff not present, he could exact revenge singing the famous solo from "Frozen," in which Groff didn't have a big song. Jordan mined the moment for every laugh, but didn't let that get in the way of his conviction, open heart and open throat in delivering the power ballad. Even more impressive was his "Dorothy" medley (despite a brief lyric flub), where he thrillingly sang the last lines of the "Over The Rainbow" in half-time retard, all in one breath.
Another highlight was Kinky Boots star Joey Taranto, who told an ingratiating story about growing up obsessed with divas Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, much to the consternation of his mother, from whom he hid, wearing a T-shirt as a wig as he sang Streisand songs into the mirror. Judging by the audience reaction, I'm not the only one who could relate. Taranto proceeded to belt out a thrillingly authoritative rendition of "I'm The Greatest Star" from Funny Girl, complete with a customized "Hey, Mr. Telsey, here I am!"
Speaking of Patti LuPone, Raul Esparza and Lin-Manuel Miranda (as Maria and Anita, respectively) offered up the funniest "A Boy Like That" and beltiest "I Have A Love" since LuPone's solo version of the songs. As a matter of fact, Esparza and Miranda did Patti one better by finishing the number in glorious harmony. Esparza also brought the house down with an impassioned "My Man."
In celebration of the guest of honor, three-time Tony nominee (and Janney's 9 to 5 co-star) Marc Kudisch gave a hysterically funny speech about what a great soul Janney is and how there must be some explanation for why it took her so long to succeed. Kudisch then dragged Janney up onstage and serenaded her with "Popular" from Wicked. He sang most of it in his virile baritone, but amusingly jumped up into the Galinda key for the "la la" section and ended winningly doing the splits to tremendous applause.
Tony winner Billy Porter explained that growing up in the ghetto in Pittsburgh, every show he saw as a kid was miscast. He then gave a taste of his soon-to-be-released album, with a slinky, jazzy interpretation of "Everything's Coming Up Roses." I was struck by the rare gift Porter possesses to sell a kind of old-school show business lounge act in a way that feels very fresh.
The Bridges of Madison County star Steven Pasquale was also in excellent voice, offering a simply gorgeous "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel. Pasquale also explained that Miscast is the benefit singers in New York most enjoy participating in. This was evident throughout the evening, though perhaps nowhere more in than "Girls" star Zosia Mamet's charming "Seize The Day" from Newsies, performed first sitting on the edge of the stage and then fully choreographed amidst a line of dancing boys, reminiscent of the numbers Liza Minnelli used to do on "The Judy Garland Show." Indeed, enjoyment was had on both sides of the proscenium.
(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues. Read Playbill.com's coverage of the solo show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)