A burst of old-fashioned energy and fresh air took the stage at 54 Below Feb. 2, when Charlie Rosen's Big Band presented a concert. Co-produced and directed by Max Friedman, the evening featured Broadway numbers, arranged in big-band orchestrations by Rosen and performed by a roster of young Broadway talent.
"What we aim for in the creation of these shows is to present something that's old school on the surface, but through a lens that's fresh and accessible to the same young crowds who come to 54 Below to see new musical theatre," Friedman told Playbill.com. "I'm delighted that we get the chance to celebrate classic showtunes in a way that seems to excite a contemporary audience. It's pretty amazing to watch these great Broadway performers tackle material that they otherwise may not get the opportunity to perform, particularly in such an intimate setting with so many incredible musicians. With these Broadway Big Band concerts, Charlie and I have found a shared project that we're really passionate about, and we're definitely exploring different ways that we can expand on the concept theatrically in the future."
Opening with the overture from Gypsy, the concert then presented Nick Blaemire singing an upbeat medley of songs from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Ariana DeBose followed with "If I Were a Bell" from Guys and Dolls. Upbeat and sprightly, the enthusiasm in her performance was infectious.
Jason Gotay offered a rendition of "Another Hundred People" from Company, with the brass in the orchestrations resembling the sounds of the city; Daniel Breaker followed with "Everybody Says Don't" from Anyone Can Whistle. Hannah Elless then took the stage with a vivacious, flirtatious rendition of Cole Porter's "You're the Top," which was followed by Julia Mattison offering a performance of "Why Do the Wrong People Travel?"
Rebecca Naomi Jones gave a sultry performance of Damn Yankees' "Whatever Lola Wants," strolling throughout the nightclub while singing. She then offered another Yankees gem, "A Little Brains, A Little Talent."
DeBose wowed with a rendition of "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home," and Andy Mientus gave an intimate performance of "Glad To Be Unhappy," which Mattison followed with "My Funny Valentine."
The evening also included Elless singing "You Can Always Count On Me" from City of Angels, Gotay singing "Old Devil Moon," and DeBose, Mattison and Elless singing Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" in the style of the Andrews Sisters. The evening ended with Breaker singing "Lost In The Stars."
"What thrills me most about doing these shows is the ability to showcase the young lions of the Broadway scene, both actors and musicians, using material and instrumentation that is timeless, but in an idiom that feels fresh," Rosen told Playbill.com. "It's also important to me to give New York audiences a chance to experience and revel in the unparalleled force that is a live full-sized orchestra backing a singer. Once people feel the excitement of the wall of sound in their bodies, they are always thrilled. I hope to remind people what it's like to experience a full-sized orchestra playing their favorite Broadway tunes, and so far the electricity in the room has proven that these audiences respond to it like nothing else. It's one of the most satisfying musical experiences I've ever had, and each show reminds me why I choose to play music for people, and for the theatre."