A Broadway veteran who has twice won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, Mr. Naughton was the artistic director, writer and host. His co-direction with his daughter Keira Naughton was perfectly paced and visually accomplished and was instrumental in making this a terrific concert. The goal of which was to explore the musical genres that preceded and influenced 1950’s Rock and Roll.
Breezily delivering his erudite script from a music stand, black-backed cards that he occasionally held, and from memory, Naughton cited Jazz, Gospel, The Blues, Country and Doo-wop. He also imparted historical facts and biographical details about the key figures involved. These included Nat King Cole, The Mills Brothers, Hank Williams, Jr., Louis Jordan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, Patsy Cline, The Coasters, The Platters, and Ray Charles. Much of the commentary was accompanied by appropriate slide projections.
Performing “Johnny B. Goode” with the cast, the youthful and fit 70-year-old Naughton showed off some cool dance moves, his distinctively smooth deep voice, and the charisma that has made him a leading man of several Broadway musicals over the last four decades. He paid homage to Elvis Presley with childhood recollections and then sang a soaring “Don’t Be Cruel.” The event was also a showcase for the vibrant talents of the other performers.
“This is one of my most treasured possessions,” said Vaneese Thomas, as an old black and white photograph of her as a 3 year-old girl with the young Elvis Presley was projected and she reminisced about meeting him. Her father Rufus Thomas was an entertainer who had a hit single, “Do the Funky Chicken.” He was also a disc jockey at a Memphis radio station where the photo was taken. Ms. Thomas also sang a commanding “This Train Is Bound for Glory,” a stirring version of Georgia on My Mind,” and was featured in many numbers with the cast including a raucous “Great Balls of Fire.”
The vivacious Solange Prat scored with sensational renditions of the Country classics “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” and a sly “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby.”
Everett Bradley sang a powerful “Please Send Me Someone to Love.” Kevin Osborne was delightfully spirited singing “Only You (And You Alone).” Mr. Bradley and Mr. Osborne lent accomplished support during several group numbers including “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “Glow Worm,” “Ol’ Man River,” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”
A swinging instrumental version of Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser” opened the show’s second act and highlighted the prodigious talents of the band. Music director and arranger John Oddo led the company consisting of Brian Pareschi on trumpet, Aaron Heick on tenor and alto sax, Ron Jannelli on alto and baritone sax, Bob Mann on guitar, David Finck on bass and James Saporito on drums.
The finale was a pulsing medley of 1950’s rock standards that included “It’s All in the Game” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” “Little Darlin’,” “Mr. Lee,” and a rousing “At the Hop.”
Obviously a labor of love for James Naughton, 92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: Battle for the Airwaves: The Songbook Meets Rock and Country was a vastly entertaining and informative presentation. This was due to Mr. Naughton’s supremely executed vision and the sensational performances by him and the wonderful cast.
92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “Battle for the Airwaves: The Songbook Meets Rock and Country” (February 27 – 29, 2016)
92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue at 96th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-415-5500 or visit http://www.92y.org
Running time: two hours and 10 minutes including one intermission