By Steven Suskin
27 Sep 2013
|Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for 54 Below|
Broadway's own Betty Comden and Adolph Green used to trot around a delectable act they called A Party With Comden and Green. 54 Below is currently presenting — for three nights only — what could well be called A Party With Ahrens and Flaherty. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, that is, who are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their collaboration with Nice Fighting You. (The title plays on the song "Nice," from Lucky Stiff.)
What seemed to be a simple format — a group of friends stopping by to sing songs they performed in various Ahrens and Flaherty musicals — became unexpectedly complicated. The group of devoted performers and friends ballooned to 17, including a full dozen Tony winners or nominees. With the songwriters on stage accompanied by a band of five, there is scarcely room for another body or two at a time.
The solution has been to divide the talent among six two-night performances, with a half-dozen or so on hand for each. (The space is so tight that the singers march out before the show and sit in a sort of bullpen aside the stage — and wouldn't you want to hear the conversation at that table?) Thursday's late show, the second of six, featured 14 numbers. Musical director Ted Sperling, who leads the expert, hand-picked band, entioned that with so many actors coming in to sing their "personal" Ahrens and Flaherty material, they have had to rehearse 40 different songs. Everything musical went perfectly, thanks to Sperling's long association with the team and the protean work of young orchestrator Neil Douglas Reilly.
Callaway, McCourt and Jessica Molaskey are slated for four of the six performances, while Lewis, Quentin Earl Darrington (from the Ragtime revival) and Marin Mazzie each do three. Also participating are LaChanze, Kevin Chamberlin, Julie Halston, Lewis Grosso and Jeremy Jordan. One should also note that Bobby Steggert, Annaleigh Ashford and Rebecca Luker, who are otherwise engaged performing in major Broadway musicals, will nevertheless drop in for this weekend's 11 PM shows to reprise their Ahrens and Flaherty songs.
The heart of the act, irrespective of the particular performers, is Ahrens and Flaherty. They serve as gracious and appreciative hosts, duly proud of their work but at the same time thrilled and delighted by the powerful performances from their various friends. Stokes summed it up glibly but succinctly while introducing his final song last night: "they put the art in heart."