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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
BROADWAY BY THE YEAR: 1921
at Town Hall

THE ROARING 20S
By MERVYN ROTHSTEIN


Town Hall was born 90 years ago, so it seemed appropriate that Scott Siegel’s delightful Broadway by the Year series would choose to begin its second decade there by focusing on 1921. It was a year that included the Ziegfeld Follies and its big star Fanny Brice; Irving Berlin’s first Music Box Revue – at his then brand new Music Box Theater; the first Broadway appearances of Vincent Youmans and Ira Gershwin (with Gershwin writing as Arthur Francis), for Two Little Girls in Blue; Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake with a major hit, Shuffle Along, and its all-black cast; and Sigmund Romberg and Dorothy Donnelly’s Blossom Time, featuring a guest musical appearance by Franz Schubert.
 
Siegel, who created the series and writes and hosts each evening, reminded his audience early on that 1921 was also the year that Albert Einstein won a Nobel Prize, a furniture company called Boeing decided to enter the aircraft business, insulin was discovered and Tel Aviv was founded – as was the football franchise known as the Green Bay Packers.
 
And then the focus shifted totally to the songs, including the consummate Broadway regulars the series attracts. There were many highlights in the evening, which was co-directed by Jeffry Denman and Erin Denman, with Ross Patterson beginning his second decade as the music director. Best of all was the young and very talented Liz Lark Brown, winner of a 2011 Nightlife Award, who channeled Brice in both a Yiddish-accented “Second Hand Rose” and a straight-on and powerful “My Man.”
 
Erin Davie, of A Little Night Music and Grey Gardens, was sweet and gentle singing Berlin’s classic “Say It with Music” without a microphone, as they did in those days (and as Siegel terms “unplugged”). Davie and Kevin Earley (Tale of Two Cities) were happily mikeless and operetta-ish in Song of Love from Blossom Time. Bobby Steggert (Ragtime) displayed his male-ingénue charm vocalizing “Dolly” from Two Little Girls in Blue.
 
The Follies had its Ziegfeld Girls, and not to be outdone, Siegel provided his Siegfeld Follies Girls, 10 lovely chorines who accompanied Kendrick Jones (Scottsboro Boys) to tap heaven with the Sissle and Blake standard “I’m Just Wild About Harry.” The leggy ones also seductively partnered with Earley in “The Very Next Girl I See,” from a hit show called Bombo, a highly successful, and long vanished, starring vehicle for Al Jolson.
 
The story is that Jolson was so nervous on opening night he walked around the city and arrived at the theater barely before show time, only to wind up with 37 curtain calls at evening’s end. Other Jolson standards at Town Hall included Toot Toot Tootsie and April Showers, the latter unplugged, sung by Stephen Mo Hanan, who starred in and co-wrote Jolson & Company. But in truth, at least this night, he was no Jolson.
 
Kate Baldwin (Finian’s Rainbow), seven months’ pregnant and in limpid voice, delivered an affecting version of another Bombo classic, “Avalon.”
 
The comic treat of the night was another Liz Lark Brown offering, a forgotten number from that year’s Greenwich Village Follies, a rapid-fire something called “Hokey Pokey,” by Frank Crumit, Rubey Cowan and Billy Joyce. Hokey Pokey’s a girl, you see – and as the lyrics go, “Holy smokey, Hokey Pokey, I love you – and that’s no jokey!”
 
 


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