Revisiting musicals from 1948-49 and 1954-55 in ‘Broadway by the Season’ at NYC’s Kaufman Music Center

The latest edition of creator, producer, director, and host Scott Siegel’s ever entertaining and educational Broadway by the Season, presented at the Kaufman Music Center’s Merkin Hall on April 29, celebrated the famous songs born on Broadway in the 1948-49 season in Act 1, and the 1954-55 season in Act 2, from the hit musicals South Pacific, Carousel, Kiss Me Kate, Damn Yankees, and Peter Pan, and the lesser known Where’s Charley?, Fanny, Plain & Fancy, and Hayride.

The cast. Photo by Ray Costello.

As always, Siegel assembled a top-notch cast of performers from the stages of Broadway and beyond – William Michals, Christiane Noll, John Easterlin, Ryan Knowles, and Moipei, along with regulars Danny Gardner and the Broadway by the Season Dance Troupe (Bailey Harding, Kelty Ober, Alexis Payton, LaTarika Pierce, and Kelly Sheehan), and the Broadway by the Season Chorus (Quentin Fettig, Paul Hernandez, Henry O’Connell, Nick Manna, and Izaya Perrier) – to deliver the songs and dance, and their inherent characterizations and emotions, which showcased the multi-talented stars’ acting skills as well as their outstanding vocals and moves, expertly accompanied by The Ross Patterson Little Big Band (Eric Halvorson on drums, Tom Hubbard on bass, and Ross Patterson on piano, who’s served as Siegel’s music director for the past 25 years).

In between the numbers, the engaging and personable Siegel, an authority on Broadway history, introduced each one and offered fascinating commentary, humorous anecdotes, and his own personal observations about the years, the shows, and the theater artists involved in their development and presentation.

Scott Siegel, with Eric Halvorson on drums. Photo by Scott Siegel.

To open the night, Siegel, standing behind a lectern, informed us of both the good and the bad events of 1948-49, which included the assassination of Mahatma Ghandi, the implementation of Apartheid in South Africa, the enactment of the Marshall Plan to provide US aid to western Europe after the end of WWII, the founding of Israel, the invention of Velcro, the introduction of the LP album, and the birth of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The first act featured three selections each from the legendary shows Carousel, South Pacific, and Kiss Me, Kate, along with a favorite from Where’s Charley? Michals, who starred as Emile de Becque in the Lincoln Center production of South Pacific, began with a deep, rich, and heartfelt rendition of its classic “Some Enchanted Evening,” making eye contact with the audience, building to a powerful crescendo, displaying his vocal virtuosity and breath control with resonant long notes, and his range with a high and soft ending. He returned with a heartrending unplugged solo on “This Nearly Was Mine,” brimming with poignancy about love lost because of bigotry, and later another unplugged in-character performance of the seven-and-a-half-minute “Soliloquy” from Carousel, moving around the stage and ebulliently expressing the pride, dreams, and uncertainty of becoming a father.

William Michals. Photo by Ray Costello.

Tony nominee Noll (Ragtime) brought her exquisite lyric soprano voice and sensitive emotion to “Carefully Taught,” another meaningful song from South Pacific, which delivers the serious message that racism is not born in you, it’s learned, and later to Carousel’s “If I Loved You,” an unplugged solo that highlighted her sweet, pure, crystalline voice and Patterson’s magnificent accompaniment on grand piano, making it clear why it’s called “grand.” Operatic tenor and four-time Grammy winner Easterlin (The Phantom of the Opera) – who, as noted by Siegel, is also a certified magician and Guinness Book of World Records holder for incorporating the most feats of magic into an opera production – contributed to the romantic theme with his deeply affecting blockbuster rendition of “So in Love” from Kiss Me, Kate, also without the use of a microphone, which these extraordinary singers clearly don’t need.

Christiane Noll. Photo by Ray Costello.
John Easterlin. Photo by Ray Costello.

There were also lively segments that brought laughs and a light-hearted mood to the stage. Triple-threat Gardner (Dames at Sea), who created all the choreography for the show, delivered “Once in Love with Amy,” first introduced by Ray Bolger in the 1948 Broadway premiere of Where’s Charley?, with his signature high energy and humor, emoting joy and vitality while singing and tapping. He returned with the BBTS Dance Troupe for the exuberant song-and-dance number “Too Darn Hot” from Kiss Me, Kate, with a chorus line of the four women tapping along with him and building up the heat. And the hilarious pairing of Hernandez and Manna on “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” provided another comedic highlight from the show-within-a-show musical, as they hammed it up in mobster-style clothing and heavy gangster accents, cavorting around the stage, directly addressing the audience, exiting, then returning with refined British elocution (“Forsooth!”) that had everyone in stitches.

Danny Gardner. Photo by Ray Costello.
Danny Gardner and the Broadway by the Season Dance Troupe. Photo by Ray Costello.
Nick Manna and Paul Hernandez. Photo by Ray Costello.
Moipei. Photo by Ray Costello.

Closing a phenomenal Act 1 was the international concert trio Moipei, comprised of triplets Mary, Marta, and Magdaline from Kenya, who brought their flawless harmonies, charming gentleness, and beautiful spirit of togetherness to Carousel’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which they sang a cappella with hand-held mics, a soft but strong climax, and uplifting radiant smiles.

Following a six-year intermission, as Siegel jested, we were introduced to the events of 1954-55, which saw the first polio vaccine, racial desegregation in the US, the Senate vote to censure Joe McCarthy, the wedding of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, the first color TVs and the first Swanson TV dinners, Elvis on the radio and Leonard Bernstein on TV for the first time, the movie debut of Godzilla, and a Broadway season that included the premieres of Fanny, Plain & Fancy (set in the Amish country, about which Siegel delivered a funny joke in the first act), and Hayride. They were represented respectively by Easterlin’s powerhouse performance of the titular song, Gardner singing to, swaying, and dancing with the graceful Sheehan in a variety of traditional styles (and a buoyant lift) on the nostalgic “Young and Foolish,” and Noll returning with a sincere and sensitive solo on “Little Things Mean a Lot,” recognizing the importance of the small gestures of love (and slyly pointing out the height difference between herself and Siegel – short in physical stature but larger than life in his contributions to the appreciation of theater).

Danny Gardner and Kelly Sheehan. Photo by Ray Costello.

Rounding out Act 2 were two selections from the Faustian baseball tale Damn Yankees and three from another of the season’s enduring hits Peter Pan. The fabulous Knowles (The Lightning Thief) gave a thrillingly devilish performance of “Those Were the Good Old Days,” commanding the stage with his thunderous basso profundo, demonic attitude, and fiendishly agile moves, falling to his knees, uttering to himself “Oh, badness gracious,” and mock-terrorizing the audience with his satanic points and glares. He returned with the BBTS Chorus for another show-stealing in-character appearance as the villainous pirate captain in “Hook’s Waltz” from Peter Pan, bringing the story to life, collapsing to the floor, directly addressing us with a segment of spoken lines, and fully defining the iniquitous personality with his extraordinary acting skills.

Ryan Knowles. Photo by Ray Costello.
Ryan Knowles and the Broadway by the Season Chorus. Photo by Ray Costello.
The Broadway by the Season Chorus. Photo by Ray Costello.

The five-member Broadway by the Season Chorus also performed the upbeat and bouncy “Heart” from Damn Yankees, with alternating solos and terrific group harmonies, in baseball caps and mics in hand, and Moipei returned with Peter Pan’s dreamy “Never Never Land” – both songs ending with the artists’ hands (or hats) on their hearts. The sensational show ended with Gardner singing and tapping to the beat of Halvorson’s drums on “I’m Flying” with the high-kicking chorus line of the BBTS Dance Troupe, and the full company coming out to enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation for the finale and curtain call.

If you missed this one, the third and final installment of the season’s series will be on Monday, June 17, at Merkin Hall, so get your tickets now to enjoy a masterful and illuminating evening of the best of Broadway’s musical history.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and five minutes, including an intermission.

The cast of Broadway by the Season. Photo by Ray Costello.

Broadway by the Season played on Monday, April 29, 2024, at 7:30 pm, at the Kaufman Music Center, Merkin Hall, 129 West 57th Street, NYC. For tickets to the next show in the series (priced at $75-90, plus fees), go online.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here