The crowd that's been regularly attending the Broadway By the Year shows over the past couple of years knows when they've seen one of the best productions in the series' history. At the after party, they start gossiping and debating over whether what they just saw was in fact the best one to date. It happens a lot... The conversation goes something like But what about 1959 when Marc Kudisch directed? or You weren't around when they did 1926 with Sutton Foster.
Broadway Musicals of 1947, which opened this year's BBTY season, stood out not just for the exceptional quality of its songbook, but for the exceptionally vibrant staging of director-choreographer and performer Jeffry Denman , who was also aided by choreographer-performers Noah Racey and Kendrick Jones. Never before has a tap number been performed not just as a duet, but by the entire company as a finale.
1947, producer-host Scott Siegel reminded us, was the year that Howdy Doody premiered on TV. At the mention of it during Scott's opening monologue, Ross Patterson and his Little Big Band, starting playing the theme song, leading to a spontaneous audience sing-a-long. (The 92nd Street Y has nothing on us, Scott quipped afterwards.) 1947 also stood out for planting the seeds of the Cold War, numerous UFO sightings, and an emphasis on the fantastick in the Broadway musical.
As expected, Monday night's playlist heavily emphasized Brigadoon and Finian's Rainbow, in addition to some ditties from Street Scene, High Button Shoes and Allegro. Denman and Meredith Patterson, who starred together last year in the Encores! production of Face the Music, gracefully performed Heather on the Hill. And in a new take on Necessity, which is typically done by a trio of black women, Denman and Racey turned it into a two-man tap-off.
In what was surely the show's creepiest moment, Marc Kudisch turned street hustler in Wouldn't You Like to Be on Broadway, trying to seduce Kristen Beth Williams. And in the sweeter moments, Eddie Korbich brought his dependable sense of character and gloriously high voice to When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love from Finian's Rainbow and Alexander Gemignani i delivered a sincere rendition of Come to Me, Bend to Me from Brigadoon.
The second act's big comic moment came courtesy of surprise guest Christine Pedi, who not only performed Civilization from the forgotten musical revue Angel in the Wings, but did it in the style of original star Elaine Stritch. Though Stritch was only 21 years old at the time, Pedi performed the song as if it were Stritch doing it today, complete with Stritch's trademark coarseness.
Other highlights included A Fellow Needs a Girl from Allegro, sung by Marc Kudisch Kerry O'Malley's performance of the Allegro ballad The Gentleman is a Dope and Donna Lynne Champlin's performance of If It were Easy from Angel in the Wings Howard McGillin and Christiane Noll's duet of Almost Like Being in Love, which opened the show and a second act finale of Go Home with Bonnie Jean from Brigadoon, performed by Alexander Gemignani and the male ensemble.