Broadway Close Up
Merkin Hall at Kaufman Music Center
December 9, 2019
Behind the Scenes of Broadway
One of the many delights of Transformations, the final concert of this year’s Broadway Close Up series, was to hear so many songs that are rarely performed. It’s not that I don’t adore music from Broadway theater that I know and enjoy but it was a special pleasure to listen to ‘Lonely Room’ from Oklahoma!, “It All Fades Away” from The Bridges of Madison County and “Where Am I Going” from Sweet Charity along with many well-known numbers.
The premise of Transformations as stated by Sean Hartley, Founding Artistic Director of the series, was to dig into selected shows and see how they had begun and how they had been altered along the way. I’d never known that Mary Martin, the original star of South Pacific, feared her co-star, opera singer Ezio Pinza, might outsing her and had it written into her contract that they would never sing together, leading to the separate-but-together Twin Soliloquies, beautifully rendered by Charlotte Maltby and Clifton Duncan. Nor did I know that Bob Fosse wrote the first script for Sweet Charity, thought it “grim, dark and not funny” and ran it by Neil Simon who echoed the sentiment before rewriting it. It was also a lot of fun to see the film version of The Full Monty before hearing the same scene from the Broadway version developed as Big Ass Rock sung by Eddie Cooper, Clifton Duncan and Robert Petkoff.
The entire cast: Eddie Cooper, Natalie Cortez, Clifton Duncan, Charlotte Maltby, Robert Petkoff and Gabrielle Stravelli was terrific. Special applause goes to Duncan and Cooper for their rich, imposing voices; Maltby for her humor, charm and supple voice and Stravelli who has the unusual capacity for showing us who the character she voices is underneath. As far as Cliff Duncan goes, I have to admit that when I saw the original Bridges of Madison County I disliked it for its overload of sentimentality but his rendition of “It All Fades Away“ was so beautifully executed with genuine emotion it made me second guess myself.
Kudos also to Greg Jarrett, Musical Director who handled the arrangements and played the piano and Marcia Milgrom Dodge for choreography.
At the evening’s end came Donna McKechnie singing “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music. Although the original star, Glynis Johns apparently had a “whispy” voice so that Stephen Sondheim wrote “Clowns” with short phrasing throughout to accommodate her, I preferred Johns’ husky version to that of McKechnie, who did a little belting. After her number while chatting with Sean Hartley she noted that she has recently begun a series of theatrical podcasts available on the Broadway Podcast Network that sound like fun.
It is always wonderful to hear Broadway music and learn more about the productions. Hartley has done a splendid job in bringing the series to life, and I look forward to how he will slant it in 2020.