Back in the day, Broadway was responsible for some of the greatest hits of the American songbook. Even today, people who claim they don't know-much less care-about showtunes will readily admit to loving "Luck be a Lady" or "You'll Never Walk Alone" or "Night and Day." Hell, even the Beatles covered "Till There Was You." So a concert of these iconic classics made for a terrific kickoff for Scott Siegel's annual Broadway Cabaaret Festival at Town Hall. Aptly directed by Scott Coulter and with music direction by Ross Patterson, and with a much smaller cast that most Scott Siegel concerts at Townhall have, Broadway Melody Makers had no real arc, or even a cohesive theme. And if it wasn't as strong as some of the Broadway by the Year editions, or the annual Broadway Unplugged event (get tickets now!), it was still an evening of some of the best songs ever written for the stage performed by some of today's greatest stage singers. Who could ask for anything more?
A few of the highlights:
Stepping in as a last-minute replacement for Michael Cerveris, Gregg Edelman had some of the most pure old-fashioned musical comedy moments. His "Rhode Island is Famous for You" stopped the show cold (his banter with an audience member helped), his "She Loves Me" was endearing, and his "Anthem" was beautifully poignant: He seemed to be having difficulty with some of the higher notes, but the struggle fit the lyrics and the emotion of the song perfectly and added a weight that often tends to get lost in the power-ballad-y-ness of the number. Teamed with Tom Wopat, Edelmann returned to the role he originated nearly 20 years ago on Broadway to sing a thrilling "You're Nothing Without Me" from City of Angels. (Mr Siegel: City of Angels reunion concert, sometime in winter? Spring, maybe? Please? Please??)
Wopat, for his part, conjured Sinatra for much of the evening, crooning smoothly through "Cool," "Luck be a Lady" and "50 Checks" from Catch Me If You Can. His strongest moment, however, was a lovely, plaintive and understated "Anyone Can Whistle" that was filled with enough longing to make a heart ache.
Mary Testa does brassy like no one else, and didn't disappoint with "My First Love, My Last Love" and "Hard Hearted Hannah." Her "Body and Soul" and "Cornet Man" were standouts, however, and displayed equal measures of warmth and wit to go along with the sass. Alice Ripey sounded wonderful, but seemed oddly disconnected from "As If We Never Said Goodbye" and "Sleepy Man." Her "Being Alive," however, was a whirlwind of emotion--fear and rage and regret and hope and several others that don't have names. When she sang "Somebody force me to care," it sounded like a direct challenge...or an order.
Pop singer Nellie McKay, who earned a Theater World Award for her Broadway debut in The Threepenny Opera a few years back, got to show off a range of musical styles that suited her delicate voice well. Her quiet and tender "What'll I Do?" was followed by a very cute "Don't Fence Me In" and an utterly charming "I Could Write a Book" with her former costar Brian Charles Rooney. (These two need to start doing readings of the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies for benefits. They're just adorable together.) Judy Kaye sounded like she was fighting off a cold, but still performed a very strong "What Did I Have That I Don't Have?" and ended the evening with a triumphant "I'm Still Here," which she imbibed with all the gusto and energy of a true stage diva.