In an inspired move to do some hefty fund-raising and honor playwright Arthur Laurents, the folks at George Street Playhouse have put together an intimate evening of Broadway tunes associated with Laurents. If he didn't pen the music or the lyrics for "West Side Story," "Gypsy" and "La Cage aux Folles," Laurents nevertheless made valued contributions to them as either book writer or director.

In an inspired move to do some hefty fund-raising and honor playwright Arthur Laurents, the folks at George Street Playhouse have put together an intimate evening of Broadway tunes associated with Laurents. If he didn’t pen the music or the lyrics for “West Side Story,” “Gypsy” and “La Cage aux Folles,” Laurents nevertheless made valued contributions to them as either book writer or director.

The playwright has recently formed a productive association with the George Street company. His play “Jolson Sings Again” preemed on the New Brunswick stage in 1999, and later this month he will direct his own adaptation of Jorge Accame’s “Venecia,” starring Chita Rivera. Spring will see the world premiere of Laurents’ new play, “Claudia Lazlo.”

In a dialogue with author-journalist Lee Davis, Laurents shared anecdotes and discussed the creation of the musicals he worked on. K.T. Sullivan, the pert cabaret soprano currently appearing in “American Rhapsody,” and vet song-and-dance man Lee Roy Reams, bridged the reminiscences with parcel of tunes.

Reflecting on the 1965 “Do I Hear a Waltz?,” which united the talents of Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim, Laurents said, “I never should have brought them together.” Commenting on the 1967 best musical Tony winner “Hallelujah Baby,” the playwright cracked, “That show was a mistake!

“I don’t think much of awards,” he added, noting that “West Side Story” and “Gypsy” failed to win best musical Tony honors. Reams, however, dignified the memory of both “Waltz” and “Hallelujah Baby” with “Take the Moment” from the former and the Styne/Comden/Green “My Own Morning” from the latter.

Announcing the forthcoming London production of “Gypsy,” which will star Bernadette Peters, Laurents praised Tyne Daly as the best Mama Rose of all. Segueing into a group of the Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim songs, Sullivan sweetly framed “Little Lamb,” and Reams gave a buoyant account of a hopeful young hoofer’s dream, “All I Need Is the Girl.”

Sullivan also scored with the Richard Maltby Jr./Charles Strouse song “Everybody Wants to Do a Musical” from the failed “Thin Man” tuner “Nick and Nora.” Reams exited the long Broadway run of “42nd Street” to appear in “La Cage aux Folles,” but before he could step into the role of Albin-Zaza the show shuttered. Performing “A Little More Mascara” and “I Am What I Am,” Reams prompted Laurents — who staged the original production — to consider a revival, noting, “I still have the red feather boa, and we’re not dead yet!”

Closer was “The Best of Times,” the infectious “La Cage” finale that never fails to prompt a warm audience response. The octogenarian Laurents was clearly flattered and responded gratefully to a standing ovation.

Broadway at George Street: The Musicals of Arthur Laurents

George Street Playhouse, New Brunswick, N.J.; 264 seats; $45 top

Production

A presentation of the George Street Playhouse in association with Patricia Watt. Written and narrated by Lee Davis. Musical direction, James Followell; lighting, Chris Davis. With K.T. Sullivan, Lee Roy Reams. Reviewed Jan. 29, 2001.
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