Two’s Company: Broadway’s Greatest Duets
November 16, 2017
Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Music Center
The program, presented in association with One Day University®, didn’t exactly live up to the “great” part of its name as host, Sean Hilton, made clear in his introduction explaining the focus was on “underrated duets.” Exactly right and very interesting—and often fun—to hear music that the enthusiastic audience wasn’t fully familiar with.
A good example is Cole Porter’s But in the Morning, No, from DuBarry was a Lady, capably performed by John Herrera and Sally Wilfert. The book of the 1939 show, originally built around the talents of its stars, Bert Lahr and Ethel Merman, is convoluted nonsense but offered a glimpse of what audiences warmed to in an earlier era. I’d never heard of Goodtime Charley, a musical about Joan of Arc and the Dauphin from 1975 that ran for just over one hundred performances. I can’t say that hearing Kevin Massey and Gabrielle Stravelli sing You Still Have a Long Way to Go made me yearn to hear more of the score but chalk it up to a musical learning experience.
Sally Wilfert shone more brightly in another number, also originally a Merman vehicle, You’re Just in Love, from Call Me Madam. Paired with Kevin Massey, this duet is a classic partner song with two different melodies and lyrics sung first along and then overlaid so each plays off the other. Massey, a genuine charmer, was the evening’s standout performer, making the most of numbers including It’s Better with a Man, (from The Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder), and I’ll Never Be Jealous Again, from The Pajama Game.
Farah Alvin, seen on Broadway in Nine, Grease! and other musicals, is a versatile singer and actress with a good-sized voice and fine comic timing as evidenced in On the Town’s Come to My Place; Barcelona from Company and The Piano Lesson, a song more notable for intertwined character vignettes than overall oomph from The Music Man.
Hamilton, (can’t salute Broadway without this one), was represented by Dear Theodosia, a duet in which Herrera and Jason Gotay sang to their very young children, a non-rap, tender piece handled capably.
As Sean Hilton explained, musicals of the twenties and thirties usually ran for relatively a short time, often a year at most, so that producers were constantly on the lookout for new material. He also noted that Broadway audiences used to be almost entirely New Yorkers, quite a different scene than today.
The evening ended with a Sondheim medley bringing all eight performers onstage. The final number was You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow from Follies, an overlooked piece that gave the cast the chance to hoof a little and blend a lot.
Kaufman Music Center’s annual Broadway Close Up series at Merkin Concert Hall gives theater fans a new perspective on the shows and songs they love. Compelling performances and a look at the creative process make the series a treat for musical theater fans.