Kicking off the fifth season of nostalgic series “Broadway by the Year,” producer-writer Scott Siegel recalled the musicals of 1929, a year marked by that ultimate nosedive, the Great Depression. In spite of a growing national crisis, Broadway appeared to be flourishing. Siegel’s well-scripted, keenly documented concert chronicled an astonishing legacy of songs from Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein, Howard Dietz, Arthur Schwartz, Vincent Youmans and the Gershwins. Only Irving Berlin seems to have skipped the season.
Alluring Broadway diva Christine Andreas revealed the talent to amuse and the core of a “hymn for what might have been” with “If Love Were All,” from Coward’s “Bitter Sweet.” The piece was to become Coward’s personal theme song. After a false start, for which she apologized to Sir Noel, a comforting and reassuring voice in the dark boomed, “It’s all right, Christine!” Andreas also provided an insightful peek into the darkly sexual undercurrent of the City of Lights with Porter’s “You Don’t Know Paree.”
With a breezy dash of song-and-dance vaudeville spirit, Noah Racey re-created the jaunty, jilted resignation of “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan.” A dashing Clifton Webb introduced the song long before he achieved screen fame as Waldo Lydecker in “Laura.”
“I Want to Be Bad,” a naughty confessional by B.G. DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson from “Follow Thru,” was served up with saucy allure by Nancy Anderson.
A regular feature of the series is the performance of significant show tunes without electronic enhancement. Among the unplugged highlights: Ron Bohmer delivered a robust reading of “Without a Song” and Emily Skinner subtly revealed the desperation of “More Than You Know.” Mary Bond Davis, sans mic, invested “Moanin’ Low” with bluesy grandeur.
Davis offered a sizzling knockout turn with Porter’s hotter-than-hot “You’ve Got That Thing.”
Cast assembled for closer “With a Song in My Heart,” by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, a sublime hymn to grace and the kind of benediction that suggests Broadway provided some comfort in the Depression.
Director Gabriel Barre staged the concert with a crisp, knowing hand that served the performers distinctively. The lighting design complemented movement and framed the singers beautifully within the design of a song.
Next up, on April 4, is the year 1945, a season well served by Sigmund Romberg’s “Up in Central Park” and the darkly romantic sentiments of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel.”