To judge from the mostly recycled pickings at this year’s Great White Way tribute, there wasn’t much that is new and thrilling on Broadway in ’98. So after a first half composed of orchestral suites — basically glorified overtures — from current revivals and long runs, John Mauceri dipped into the past, which effectively perked things up.
Of the five so-called suites Mauceri conducted, three were from revivals — a rather flaccid Entr-Acte from “The Sound of Music,” a “world premiere” string of tunes from “Cabaret,” and a rowdier medley from “Chicago,” which, more than the others, inspired a more dynamic performance from the hard-working Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.
The excerpt from film-based “The Lion King” — a three-minute trifle that shouldn’t be dignified as a “suite” — had all of the hard-sell charm of a hackneyed modern film score, and the “Ragtime” medley, which does contain some pleasing passages and brassy, raggy rhythms, was unveiled at the Bowl last summer.
Once into the past, gathered under the umbrella of “The British on Broadway” — shows about the Brits, not by the Brits — something resembling the old flavor of the theater could be savored, with Mauceri skillfully backing Patrick Stewart and Lynn Redgrave, two stage-savvy Thespians with just enough voice to put the music over.
By far, the most moving sequence was that from “Sweeney Todd,” Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 masterpiece that has an emotional depth and wicked humor that set it jarringly apart from the other entertainments of the night. It also received the most authentic-sounding performance, with Redgrave cast perfectly as the amoral Mrs. Lovett and Stewart a subtle, formidable Todd, despite losing touch with the tunes now and then.
In a sequence from “Camelot,” Stewart followed the outlines of the speech-song manner of Richard Burton as Arthur, though Redgrave was a less-convincing Guinnevere. And overcoming the use of the inferior film orchestrations, “The King And I” was enlived by Stewart’s dead-on portrayal of the King and his spirited dancing with Redgrave.
From there, the energy continued with a smashing new fireworks show set to a snazzy medley from “Gypsy,” “Sing, Sing, Sing” from the Bob Fosse retrospective currently in Toronto, and Stewart and Redgrave irresistibly rolling their ‘Rs’ in “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”