Broadway Close Up
Love Who You Love
Merkin Hall at Kaufman Music Center
November 12, 2019
Out of the Closet
This program, subtitled “a 100-year survey of gay and lesbian writers and characters on Broadway from the 1920s to 2020,” was just as good musically but more emotionally-charged than similar “Broadway tributes” at this venue. The outpouring of feelings was probably due to the subject matter—the work of gay and lesbian music makers— along with coming out stories and brief, but necessary, references to the AIDS crisis. Even though this was the second performance, the emotions felt entirely genuine and often brought cheers from the audience. The program was designed to examine the history of closeted writers and coded imagery while detailing how more open and explicit the classification became starting in the 1970s.
For me, the knock-out performer was Beth Malone who delivered her numbers, “An Old Fashioned Love Story” from The Wild Party; “Ring of Keys” from Fun Home and “Unruly Heart” from The Prom brilliantly. Malone is a slender woman with a big voice and diction that delivers every word with meaning and clarity. In the “Unruly Heart” number which closed the show, she was joined by the entire cast; the song with its simply lyric and deep feeling had me (and probably the rest of the enthusiastic audience) in tears.
Nick Cearley, who has appeared in productions as varied as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Little Shop of Horrors and Pageant for which he was nominated for a Drama Desk Best Revival, was tremendously compelling in two songs from Falsettos and in his performance of “Dressing Them Up” from The Kiss of the Spider Woman. He projects great confidence and a sense of humor to back up his strong, clear voice.
Sean Hartley, Founding Artistic Director of Broadway Close Up, talked with composers Adam Lippa and Stephen Flattery about their coming out experiences that underscored their works. Flaherty, whose credits include Tony Awards for Ragtime and Once on This Island as well as Seussical, Rocky, Anastasia and My Favorite Year along with Off-Broadway, regional theater and work in films, was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 2015 with his writing partner Lynn Ahrens. He said he wanted to write something Irish before undertaking A Man of No Importance which I wish I’d seen as the song, “Love Who You Love,” was both unfamiliar and entirely delightful.
La Cage Aux Folles is a show I’ve loved since the first time I saw it but I’ve heard other singers render “I Am What I Am” with more brio than Lee Roy Reams who was saddled with a red feather boa that distracted by leaking feathers as he waved it. I’m clearly in the minority here as Mr. Reams been highly praised for his work; played at the White House for Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton and was the first American male to star as Dolly in Hello Dolly!
Nick Adams, Klea Blackhurst, Edward Hibbert, Adam Kantor, Jason Robinson and Michael Winther completed the excellent cast. Nate Patten, the series Music Director, provided the excellent arrangements and piano accompaniment.
Broadway music is a true American art form. It can be energizing, hummable (or not), comedic, romantic and a host of other characteristics. This show was all the above with an added dash of emotional pull that gave it great richness.