As a contrast to the dark and heavy situations that surrounded the theatergoers of the World, the music theater that came out of the 1930’s paints quite the opposite picture. Messages about love, hope, joy, and a general positivity can be found throughout many of the songs released by the prominent composers of the generation. Though many composers came to prominence in the 1930’s, this was also a decade which saw the rise of a few prolific and very popular songwriters, including Cole Porter, the Gershwins, and Rodgers & Hart.
The Broadway by the Year series is presented in concert form, and each performance features a different set of current Broadway and cabaret notables to bring the chosen standards to life. The performers representing the 1930’s were a diverse few, with noticeably different skill sets and vocal styles which made way for an exciting and varied evening of performances.
To start the evening, Broadway veteran Robert Cuccioli kicked off the show with an elegant but energetic performance of “Begin the Beguine,” from the 1935 musical Jubilee. Cuccioli, no stranger to the stage, has a deep and powerful baritone voice which matches his commanding stage presence. Serving as the bookend to both the first and second acts, Cuccioli also performed the fan favorite “Night and Day” (Gay Divorce), and closed out the evening with the somber but uplifting “As Time Goes By” (Everybody’s Welcome).
Another big name of the evening was Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins, whose rich vibrato reverberates through the doors of the theater and out into the street. While Ms. Pinkins performed in both acts, her best moments came in the second, with her haunting Alto on display in “Supper Time” (As Thousands Cheer), and then again in “September Song” (Knickerbocker Holiday).
Though most of the performances of the evening were solely from vocalists, some of the performers showed versatility by playing with various different instruments. This added a refreshing amount of variety, and led to a handful of outstanding performances. Pianist and singer Billy Stritch performed in the first act, and the combination of his smooth vocals and stride-style piano was a welcome treat. The highlight of the evening for Stritch was “Comes Love” (Yokel Boy), which earned mid-song applause from the audience. Also showing versatility was Nellie McKay, who—at different times—performed on both the piano and the ukulele. McKay, who possesses a voice with an almost calm quality, is to be thanked for some of the more subtle, quiet, moments of the evening.
Adding to the arsenal of female vocalists on display, Emily Skinner provided a powerhouse presence which was a nice contrast to the other aforementioned artists. Skinner possesses a booming voice and an infectious stage presence, and this was on full display during “I’ll Be Seeing You” (Right This Way), which sent the audience off to intermission craving the start of the second act.
Some of the most impressive and enjoyable moments of the evening involved the creativity of Broadway tap dancers Luke Hawkins and Michela Marino Lerman. Paired (respectively) with the vocalists Philippa Lynas and Brian Charles Rooney, Hawkins and Lerman each dazzled the audience with their incredible hoofing skills while their vocalist partner sung joyfully and skillfully in the background. In a penultimate joining of forces, the team of four came together in the second act for a riveting performance of the Gershwin classic, “I Got Rhythm,” which pitted the two dueling tap dancers against each other in an improvised tap battle that nearly brought down the house.
Created, written, and directed by Scott Siegel, the Broadway by the Year creator also acts as the host of the evening. Sitting on stage for the duration of the performance, Siegel’s narration and commentary typically covered the history of the forthcoming song’s release and composition, followed by some global historical context to set the tone. Siegel is an entertaining and interesting host, and his enthusiastic commentary is a refreshing and engaging segue between musical performances.
Another staple of the Broadway by the Year series is musical director Ross Patterson, who has been with the series since its inception. Accompanied with style and panache, Patterson’s musical arrangements are respectful of the originals but often carry a certain flare which is jazzy and infectious, and the guide of his steady hand as musical director results in a polished and pristine evening of standards.
Back again for its 16th annual season, Scott Siegel’s Broadway by the Year is an expertly curated evening of classics which has become a staple at Manhattan’s own The Town Hall. Backed by a slew of Broadway and cabaret performers and musicians who are masters of their craft, Broadway by the Year: The 1930’s is a nostalgic and entertaining evening of standards that suggests a promising season from the creator of this long-running event series.
Broadway by the Year: the 1930’s (February 22, 2016)
The Town Hall
The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets to future events, call 212-788-3000 or visit http://www.thetownhall.org
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission