Broadway Unplugged

| May 5, 2017

Broadway Unplugged

The Town Hall, NYC, May 1, 2017

Reviewed by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Klea Blackhurst

There’s a lot of unabashed cheering that goes on at the annual Broadway Unplugged show, and for good reason: there’s something about hearing the pure, unaided, and nuanced voice of a vocalist that touches the soul of the listener. In this 15th edition, series producer, writer, and host Scott Siegel once again scored a winner. His well-chosen cast of 17 performed the perfect material to showcase their prodigious talents. By show’s end, a nonpareil treasure box of entertainment had been achieved through a perfect storm of elements, not the least of these being the versatile, accomplished “orchestra” of Musical Director Ross Patterson on piano, Randy Landau on bass, and Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf on cello. It was quite a spectacular evening of “sound design by God.”

It so happens that The Town Hall – built in 1921 – has excellent acoustics, and many of the songs selected for the evening, like the venue, predate the use of microphones. Closing one’s eyes, one could imagine it was 1926, as Douglas Ladnier performed an intense “One Alone” from The Desert Song (Sigmund Romberg/Oscar Hammerstein II). Show Boat (Jerome Kern/Hammerstein), the 1927 musical theater game-changer, was represented by Judy McLane and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” projecting a “quiet number” very effectively au naturel. Brian Charles Rooney, singing in the style of the day, delivered an impassioned rendition of “Lover, Come Back to Me” from The New Moon (1928, Romberg/Hammerstein).

In fact, prior to the inception of mics in 1930, stage singing was very stylized. Many females were operatic performers. Legit vocalists adopted a somewhat exaggerated style to allow for heightened enunciation and vocal projection over the orchestra. In 1939 footlight microphones were introduced, giving the performer more control over his/her voice. In this era the belt came into being via the person of Ethel Merman. Klea Blackhurst (pictured), singing in her Merman mode, aced “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” from Annie Get Your Gun (1946, Irving Berlin), while Ladnier and Jillian Louis delivered a highly emotional and beautiful duet of “If I Loved You” from Carousel (1945, Richard Rodgers/Hammerstein). As orchestrations became more complex and “heavy,” electronic amplification became more critical. In 1957 the body mic came on the scene, being fully accepted by the late 1960s.

Notable Broadway Unplugged performances of the modern era included Emily Skinner singing “Some People” from Gypsy (1959, Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim), Max von Essen with “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” (George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin & Buddy DeSylva, originally written for George White’s Scandals of 1922) which he sang recently on Broadway in An American in Paris, and Maxine Linehan channeling Evita with “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” (Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice). The incomparable William Michals, in a suggestion of costume, plus a makeup kit, transformed into Don Quixote to perform an exhilarating “I, Don Quixote” from Man of La Mancha (1965, Mitch Leigh/Joe Darion). Rock and roll unplugged was a revelation with Jillian Louis’ torchy, poetic version of “I (Who Have Nothing)” (Carlo Donida/Giulio “Mogol” Rapetti/Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller used in Smokey Joe’s Café). 

Many other splendid performers scored successes during the evening, including Farah Alvin (“Maybe This Time”), Bill Daugherty (“Mad About the Boy”/Words and Music), Ben Davis (“Stars”/Les Misérables), Jeremy Kushnier (“Where I Want to Be”/Chess), Lesli Margherita (“It’s All the Same”/Man of La Mancha), Jill Paice (“Come to My Garden”/The Secret Garden), Kyle Scatliffe (”Big News”/Parade), and Erin Davie, with Ben Davis (“All the Things You Are”/Very Warm for May). The finale, “What I Did for Love” (A Chorus Line), was a sweet rendition by members of the Broadway by the Year Chorus—Pedro Coppeti, Chelsea Wheatley, Emma Camp, Sarah Treaner, Megan Lione, Jacob Pressley—with the entire cast of Broadway Unplugged joining them for a final tag and well-deserved standing ovation.

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Category: Cabaret Reviews, New York City, New York City Cabaret Reviews, Regional

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