"Broadway By the Year" is the name of the new series of four show-tune concerts — "cabaret concerts," according to creator and host Scott Siegel — scheduled to play Town Hall in midtown Manhattan, March through June 2002. 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 commentary and historical perspective. Broadway and cabaret artists perform in a format that includes a little bit of history and a lot of music. Brent Barrett, Liz Callaway, Karen Mason, Chip Zien and Mary Testa have already committed to perform in the eclectic series, with others being sought. The concerts play 8 PM Monday evenings — traditionally, a day off for Broadway actors. Siegel said each evening will feature five singers.
The four concerts respectively focus on the years 1933, 1940, 1951 and 1964, all musical directed by Ross Patterson. Expect highlights from As Thousands Cheer, Let 'Em Eat Cake, Pardon My English, Roberta, Melody, The Three Penny Opera (1933), 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 Musicals 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."
And he 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.
The upcoming concerts are planned for March 18, 2002 (The Broadway Musicals of 1933), April 15, 2002 (The Broadway Musicals of 1940), May 13, 2002 (The Broadway Musicals of 1951) and June 10, 2002 (The Broadway Musicals of 1964).
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