54 Celebrates the Neil Simon Theatre

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54 Celebrates the Neil Simon Theatre

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, June 29, 2016

Reviewed by Joel Benjamin for Cabaret Scenes

Pamela Myers Photo: Maryann Lopinto
Pamela Myers
Photo: Maryann Lopinto

Space limitations prevent me from relating all the moving anecdotes told during 54 Celebrates the Neil Simon Theatre, about the magical venue (originally called the Alvin Theatre, renamed the Neil Simon in 1983) whose history includes fabled performers—Ethel Merman, Ginger Rogers, the Astaires, Zero Mostel, Dorothy Loudon, Larry Kert—in some of the finest musicals ever created: Girl Crazy (score: the Gershwins), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Company and Merrily We Roll Along (all by Sondheim), Annie (Charles Strouse/Martin Charnin) and Hairspray (Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman). 

There were, as well, the bombs, represented here by Big Fish (Andrew Lippa) from which the rousing “Be the Hero” provided the finale sung by Tally Sessions and the ensemble; the funny title song from Do Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up ?(James Quinn/Alaric Jans) sung by Larry Hochman and Don Stitt; and the torchy “Blame It on Love” (David Pomeranz/David Friedman/Kathie Lee Gifford) from Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, beautifully performed by Pomeranz and Shelly Burch.

After a witty, fact-packed ditty, “The Neil Simon Theatre” (Daniel Lincoln), exuberantly rattled off by Tyler Brunsman, Cori Stolbun and Erin Rice, came some classic Gershwin: “’S Wonderful,” smoothy crooned and danced by the still-boyish Lara Teeter, and “I Got Rhythm,” blasted by big-lunged Rebecca Spigelman. Betsy Struxness breezed through “It’s a Perfect Relationship” from Bells Are Ringing which moved to the Alvin from the Shubert.

Jim Brochu brilliantly turned a suite of songs from Forum into a three-act, autobiographical play. From Annie, the inevitable “Tomorrow” was sung by an extraordinary young lady, Annabelle Wachtel.  (Martin Charnin was there to expound on the show.)

Annie Golden practically stole the evening with a rich “Good Morning. Baltimore” (Hairspray) and a very moving “Memory” (Andrew Lloyd Webber/T.S. Eliot) from Cats (soon to return to the Simon).

Lloyd Webber, with Tim Rice, was also represented by “Gethsemane” (Jesus Christ Superstar) sung by powerful pop tenor Nick Cartell. Lovely soprano Christiane Noll floated “Falling in Love with Love” (Rodgers & Hart, The Boys from Syracuse) and Pamela Myers thrilled and touched the audience re-creating “Another Hundred People” (Company).

Musical Director Greg Kenna (piano) guided Adam Wolfe (drums) and Martin Isenberg (bass), who adroitly managed all the stylistic demands of these shows.

54 Below Program Director Jennifer Ashley Tepper emceed brilliantly.

Joel Benjamin

A native New Yorker, Joel was always fascinated by musical theater. Luckily, he was able to be a part of seven Broadway musicals before the age of 14, quitting to pursue a pre-med degree, which led no where except back to performing in the guise of directing a touring ballet troupe. Always interested in writing, he wrote a short play in high school that was actually performed, leading to a hiatus of nearly 40 years before he returned to writing as a reviewer. Writing for Cabaret Scenes has kept him in touch with world filled with brilliance.