A celebratory evening with ‘Broadway Bound: The Musicals that Never Came to Broadway’ at NYC’s 54 Below

The third installment of the series Broadway Bound: The Musicals that Never Came to Broadway, co-hosted by podcasters Robert W. Schneider and Charles Kirsch, brought out an all-star roster of Broadway talent for the one-night-only concert at 54 Below, offering a behind-the-scenes look and a selection of songs in a range of musical styles from eleven shows that were supposed to open on The Great White Way but never did (among them musical adaptations of earlier plays, hit films, books, and TV programs), as recounted by the hosts and some of the original cast members, writers, and directors.

Robert W. Schneider and Charles Kirsch. Photo by Deb Miller.

What became abundantly clear, as noted by Schneider, is that the thwarted plans were not always (though sometimes were) a result of the quality of the show but were often due to a variety of other reasons, including “artistic differences” and bad timing. What was also evident in the highly entertaining and exciting performances, with piano accompaniment by music director Michael Lavine, is that there could still be a chance for some of the stalled musicals to make their way to the Broadway stage – especially if they were to cast these top-notch artists.

Debbie Gravitte (center) and backup singers. Photo by Ray Costello.

The concert opened with “Michigan Bound” from Swing, inspired by the titular genre of 1940s American music. According to original cast member Debbie Gravitte, who sang it (here backed by the harmonies of Roger Dawley, Aaron Gooden, Timothy Lewis, and Bryan George Rowell), the show did generate a lot of “red flags” when it played at DC’s Kennedy Center in 1980, along with the comment from Bob Fosse, who attended the pre-NYC run, that “You should close it.” Fortunately, to the delight of the audience, she’s able to joke about it now. Gravitte’s humorous kickoff was followed by Bruce Landry’s engaging performance of “In this Room” from Goodbye to Berlin, a pre-Cabaret attempt at a musical adaptation of the eponymous book, which was also criticized at the time for being “too sunny.”

Bruce Landry. Photo by Ray Costello.

Numbers from other failed productions featured Erin Davie on “Sooner or Later” from the 1969 musical Gatsby, a video of which she posted on YouTube ten years ago and had forgotten she ever sang; Lavine singing and accompanying himself on piano for “Fun” from Arthur: The Musical, a show that played at Goodspeed in 1991, based on the movie about a man with a very heavy drinking problem; and “Every Boy Deserves to Be Loved by an Older Woman,” a duet by Kelly Lester and Rowell from the 1987 musical adaptation of The Graduate, enhanced by their amusing enactments of flirting, caressing, and tearing their clothes off.

Erin Davie. Photo by Ray Costello.
Bryan George Rowell and Kelly Lester. Photo by Ray Costello.

There were also performances of their own original songs by Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) on piano and bilingual vocals, in French and English, on “Chanson” from The Baker’s Wife, a work that never played Broadway but premiered in London in 1989, and enjoyed a sold-out award-winning Off-Off-Broadway run last year at Theatre Row; and Richard Maltby Jr. (lyrics) on the hilariously risqué “Over Ripe Fruit” from a seduction scene in The Country Wife, a musical version of “the dirtiest” of Restoration comedies, which I would love to see revived, too, be it on or off Broadway.

Stephen Schwartz with Robert W. Schneider and Charles Kirsch. Photo by Deb Miller.
Richard Maltby Jr. Photo by Ray Costello.

Among my other personal favorites were the 1967 song “I Want to Be in Love Again” from Mike, based on novelist Mickey Spillane’s iconic private eye Mike Hammer, with music and lyrics by the legendary Johnny Mercer, performed to perfection by new-generation crooner Mark William, who surprised the audience with a trumpet solo; Hilary Cole’s blockbuster vocal on “Things I Should Have Said” from Gilligan’s Island: The Musical, expressing Mary Ann’s lament on the possibility of leaving; and LaDonna Burns’ impassioned duet with Major Attaway on “Hungry” from Daddy Goodness, which played in Philadelphia and DC to bad reviews in 1979, though their emotive powerhouse performance of the song gets a rave from me.

Mark William. Photo by Deb Miller.
Hilary Cole. Photo by Deb Miller.
LaDonna Burns and Major Attaway. Photo by Deb Miller.

And the always sensational Joe Iconis brought his signature high energy and witty commentary to the stage, accompanying Kelly McIntyre on piano for her knockout vocals and moves on “The Three Failed Escape Attempts of Sheila Nail” from his original musical Love in Hate Nation (book, music, and lyrics), set in a 1960s juvie hall for girls. The show made its debut in 2019, at New Jersey’s Two River Theater, before the pandemic closure of theaters in March 2020 put a halt to any immediate plans for a production in NYC. But in addition to recognizing that the mood of the tribute to musicals that never made it to Broadway was “celebratory, not funereal,” Iconis hinted that there might be some good news ahead for his own. I know I’m not alone in saying that I can’t wait!

Kelly McIntyre, with Joe Iconis on piano. Photo by Deb Miller.

If you missed it this time, Schneider assured the enthusiastic house that a fourth installment of the popular Broadway Bound series will be coming to 54 Below at a date TBA. In support of the creative community, a portion of the proceeds from the latest concert, including the top bid on the show’s poster, autographed by the performing artists, was donated to The Dramatists Guild, the National Trade Association of Playwrights, Composers, Lyricists, and Librettists.

Running Time: Approximately 65 minutes, without intermission.

Broadway Bound: The Musicals that Never Came to Broadway played on Wednesday, February 15, 2023, at 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, cellar, NYC.


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