1938 might be best described as the quiet before the proverbial storm. The Depression was gradually easing up under FDR's WPA and CCC programs, Hitler invaded Austria without firing a shot, and the riot known as Kristalnacht foreshadowed the horror of Holocaust. And while the Depression was making producing new musicals difficult (for the first time since that century, less than 100 new shows opened on Broadway), 1938 was, artistically, a rather remarkable year. Both Cole Porter and Rodgers & Hart had two new shows on the boards, and many standard songs made their debuts. Those standards, and many other worthy numbers from that year, were presented in the second Broadway by the Year concert of Scott Siegel's flagship series' seventh season, The Broadway Musicals of 1938.
As directed by Emily Skinner, who has appeared in and/or directed many other BBTY concerts (and music directed by Ross Patterson, who has arranged all of the BBTY shows for his Little Big Band), the show seemed somewhat quieter than some of the other editions, nicely reflecting the gradual changes that were occurring in the world that year. There were few songs that roused the audience enough to call the singers back for encores, but the numbers were all well balanced between up-tempo, ballad, comic and poignant, letting the emotional energy of the evening flow smoothly.
After a bright rendition of "Sing for Your Supper" from The Boys from Syracuse courtesy of Christiane Noll, Sara Uriarte Berry and Connie Pachl, the mood turned more somber with "How Long Can Love Keep Laughing" from Sing Out The News, sung powerfully by Phantom of the Opera's Hugh Panaro and "Spring Is Here" from I Married an Angel, sung plaintively by Sarah Uriarte Berry. Aaron Lazar and Shannon Lewis lightened the mood with "What Is That Tune?" from You Never Know, and Connie Pachl conjured both Sophie Tucker and Mae West with "Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love" from Leave it to Me.
Two standards followed: an adorable "This Can't Be Love" from The Boys From Syracuse, sung brightly by Mr. Panaro and Ms. Uriarte Berry, and a saucy "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," sung with plenty of sex appeal to Scott Siegel by Shannon Lewis. Christiane Noll sang "There Had to be a Waltz" from Great Lady, and the ensemble gathered together to sing a buoyant "At Long Last Love," the song that, according to legend, Cole Porter wrote as a distraction while pinned under a fallen horse. (Also according to legend, the song has a bit of a curse attached. You Never Know, the show in which the song appears, was a flop, as was the 1975 Peter Bogdonavich movie that used the song as its title. It would seem that Ms. Skinner and her very adept cast have finally broken that curse.)
Martin Vidovnik sang a rich "One of These Fine Days" from Sing Out The News, and was followed by Barbara Walsh, singing a powerhouse "No, You Can't Have My Heart" from You Never Know. Aaron Lazar brought the first act to a close with a seemingly effortlessly powerful (and unamplified) "I Can Dream, Can't I?" from Right This Way.
After an entr'acte of "Fuddle De Duddle" from Hellzapoppin' (one of the biggest hits of the 30's but with no real songs to be sung out of context), Vidovnik returned to sing an unmiked "I'll Tell the Man in the Street" from I Married an Angel, and Christiane Noll sang the classic "Falling in Love with Love" from The Boys from Syracuse with as much dry wit as poignancy.
Hugh Panaro sang a soaring title song from I Married an Angel, Ray McLeod sang a lovely "Lullaby of the Plain" from The Girl from Wyoming, and was followed by a scene-stealing Vidovnik, Panaro and Lazar singing a hilarious "The Dying Cowboy" from the same show. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuhler (responsible for all those salsas and sambas in In The Heights) danced his way through a largely instrumental "Rink-a-Tinka Man" from Who's Who leaping and spinning in a celebratory whirl. Barbara Walsh calmed the room down with a sharply jaded "Nickel Under Your Foot" from the legendary Marc Blitzstein musical The Cradle Will Rock, and Ray McLeod sustained the mood with his weary "Joe Worker" from the same show.