For the latest installment of Broadway by the Year – the popular series of one-night-only concerts recounting the musical history of Broadway, created, written, and directed by host Scott Siegel – the theme was jukebox musicals and revues, from the original Ziegfeld Follies of 1907, to the current Moulin Rouge!, which opened in the summer of 2019. In addition to highlighting a selection of nineteen iconic songs, the star-studded night also showcased the extraordinary talents of eight featured soloists from Broadway and the NYC concert stage, high-energy dance numbers with the Broadway by the Year Dance Troupe and members of the cast, and informative and engaging background commentary by Siegel and the artists.
The show opened with Siegel explaining the difference between the two genres (a jukebox musical has a book, a revue doesn’t). He interspersed the musical numbers with a survey of the origins and popularity of both, and the context of each of the song selections. The revue, he explained, was the most popular in the 1910s-20s, and Ziegfeld Follies was the most lavish of them all, with such legendary performers as W.C. Fields, Josephine Baker, Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, Bob Hope, Will Rogers, Ray Bolger, Sophie Tucker, and many others appearing in them through 1931, along with the Ziegfeld Girls, a forerunner of Radio City Music Hall’s Rockettes. Jukebox musicals came later, after the advent of TV variety shows, which essentially killed the stage revue, and they remain a staple on Broadway to the present day (including such current hists as MJ and Tina: The Tina Turner Musical).
Backed by the top-notch trio of longtime musical director Ross Patterson on piano, Adam Armstrong on bass, and Jon Berger on drums, the rotating all-star cast of Tony Danza, Melissa Errico, John Easterlin, Danny Gardner, Ryan Knowles, Douglas Ladnier, Anais Reno, and Hayley Swindal consistently brought down the house with their blockbuster renditions of old-time classics, pop and country hits, favorites from the Golden Age of Broadway, and everything in between. Errico, embodying her singing characters with hilarious costume accessories, and Danza, injecting a short stand-up routine and tap dance, shared personal stories connected to the songs they performed (“Life Upon the Wicked Stage” and the naughty “Confession” from her; “How About You?” and “Angel Eyes” from him, accompanied by his pianist Joe Davidian). Swindal brought her Broadway acting skills and amazing breath control to “Losing My Mind,” “Cabaret,” and “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” for which she was joined by eight women of the BBTY Dance Troupe (Mary Donnelly, Courtney File, Kelty Ober, Alexis Payton, LaTarika Pierce, Jaclyn Salerno, Emma Schultz, and Kelly Sheehan) in a dazzling song-and-dance number, choreographed by Gardner, cleverly employing long rhinestone necklaces.
Gardner, resident BBTY choreographer and Broadway triple-threat, was the featured vocalist and dancer in the poignant “Dancing in the Dark,” with a mix of styles from ballet to ballroom, in which he was joined by Sheehan, and the exuberant “Fascinating Rhythm” with the BBTY Dance Troupe, which combined tap, claps, and chorus line high kicks. The dancers also joined the renowned opera tenor Easterlin for the Great American Songbook standard “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody,” written by Irving Berlin in 1919, which became the theme song of the Ziegfeld Follies. And Easterlin brought his soaring voice to the oldest song in the show, Berlin’s “The Girl on the Magazine Cover,” from the 1915 Broadway production Stop! Look! Listen!.
Two more of Broadway’s most impressive and expressive male luminaries delivered tour-de-force vocals in their signature styles. Ryan Knowles, with his thunderous basso profundo, cheeky attitude, and costume changes, never ceased to amaze with his versatility on the desperate Depression-era anthem “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” from the 1932 show Americana, the jaunty “Everything Old Is New Again” from the 1998 jukebox musical The Boy from Oz on the life of Australian singer/songwriter Peter Allen, and Merle Travis’s 1946 country hit “Sixteen Tons.” Douglas Ladnier’s rich baritone and emotive tenderness brought heartfelt meaning and empathy to the post-modern pop songs “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell, The Beatles’ “Yesterday,” and Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” none of which were written for the stage but respectively extended their fame on Broadway in the musicals Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Beatlemania, and Girl from the North Country.
And no one could fail to be wowed by rising star Anais Reno, an eighteen-year-old sensation with a mature and resonant voice, spot-on jazz stylings, perfect tempo, and commanding stage presence. Her magnificent renditions of the American jazz masterworks “Stardust” (by Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish) and the exoticizing “Caravan” (by Duke Ellington, Juan Tizol, and Irving Mills) were proof positive that this young phenomenon is sure to have a long successful career ahead of her.
You have two more chances this season to catch Broadway by the Year, with Almost on Broadway on Monday, June 27, and A One Night Only History of Broadway Song & Dance on Monday, September 19. They’re guaranteed to provide fascinating lessons on the evolution of musical theater and highly entertaining evenings of performances by first-rate casts.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and ten minutes, including an intermission.
Broadway by the Year: From Ziegfeld to Moulin Rouge! played on Monday, May 23, 2022, at The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street, NYC. For information about this season’s upcoming shows, go online.