The year at Broadway by the Year was 1948, and Scott Siegel’s concert series at Town Hall, itself in its 10th year, served up that slice of the golden age of Broadway with great richness.
1948 was the year of Cole Porter’s masterpiece, Kiss Me, Kate, and Siegel’s vocally endowed cast did the score proud. William Michals, who’s filling in these days as Emile de Becque in South Pacific, projected to the rafters (even without microphone) in stirring versions of "Were Thine That Special Face," "Where Is the Life That Late I Led" and "So in Love." Jeffry Denman and Bobby Steggert, co-starring Off Broadway in Yank, charmed the capacity audience with their delightful version of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," reminding everyone why that song is a comically ribald classic — “If she says your behavior is heinous, kick her right in the Coriolanus … When your baby is pleading for pleasure, let her sample your Measure for Measure.”
Denman and his spouse, Erin Denman, provided appropriate musical and choreographic heat for "Too Darn Hot." And the evening’s special guest, Melissa Manchester, brought her own distinctive style to "From This Moment On," which was added to the 1953 movie version.
It was also the year of Frank Loesser’s first big hit, Where’s Charley, and Noah Racey competed well with the memory of the original star, Ray Bolger, with his charming singing and dancing in "Once in Love With Amy."
The series, though, exists not only as a vehicle for favorite hits. It often brings back and reminds us of unjustly neglected shows, with the hope that they might return to the repertoire. Once such show, from 1948, was Kurt Weill and Alan Jay Lerner’s Love Life, which portrayed an ever-young and troubled American married couple from the 1790s to the 1940s, offering a microcosm of United States history. It was, as Siegel pointed out, a concept musical before there was a concept musical — Fred Ebb, the host noted, once said that without Love Life there could never have been Cabaret.
The evening’s performances made a strong case, at least musically, that Love Life deserves greater recognition. Kristin Dausch, a newcomer to the series, who is a graduate of its training program, sang cynically of the "Economics" of male-female relationships and provided a grandly satirical description of her "Mr. Right." Steggert and Farah Alvin (of last year’s The Marvelous Wonderettes Off Broadway) offered the original version of "I Remember It Well," which, with revised lyrics and new music by Frederick Loewe, was sung a decade later by Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold in the movie of Gigi. And Alvin lent her emotionally limpid voice to a beautiful torch song called "Is It Him or Is It Me?"
There was much more to the evening, which was directed by Stuart Ross, with music direction by Ross Patterson, but there isn’t room for it all — except to mention the operatic tenor John Easterlin’s mighty version (sans microphone) of a comic evocation of the old-time glories of "Schrafft’s," from a little known revue called Make Mine Manhattan, and Josh Grisetti (Enter Laughing: the Musical) conveying the glorious silliness of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz’s "Rhode Island Is Famous for You" (“Pencils come from Pennsylvania, vests from Vest Virginia, tents from Tentassee …") from Inside U.S.A.
That’s the Broadway by the Year series — the appeal of the familiar combined with the surprise of the rediscovered. Next, on May 10, is 1966, featuring Sweet