For the fourth annual Broadway Unplugged, a concert of show tunes performed without electrical enhancement, producer-host Scott Siegel assured the audience that the songs came “from the soul and not the soundboard.” The assembled cast of Broadway veterans, gypsies and rookies met the challenge head on, belting their songs to the far reaches of the balcony sans microphones.
Tony-winning Beth Leavel, the outrageous title star of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” honored composer Kay Swift, an intimate friend and associate of George Gershwin, with a show-stopping unharnessed torcher, “Nobody Breaks My Heart.” Swift, who penned the vaudevillian’s anthem “Fine and Dandy,” once told this writer, “Thank God for the jugglers!”
For the 50th anniversary of “West Side Story,” a lovely Sarah Uriarte Berry rendered a poetically ardent “Somewhere.” Siegel noted that Leonard Bernstein had intended to co-write the lyrics with the young Stephen Sondheim, but the latter confessed to having been the sole author of the words, save for a line or two. And the words were best realized in a duet by Sarah Jane McMahon and Max von Essen of love shared on a fire escape, “Tonight.”
More Sondheim came in the person of Andrea McArdle, a very grown-up Annie, who sang the bitter warning “Everybody Says Don’t,” from “Anyone Can Whistle,” with true urgent savvy. On the dark side, Lorinda Lisitza brought a real desperate sense of theatrical drama to Kurt Weill’s “Surabaya Johnny.”
A rouser braced with humor, “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” was the Nicely Nicely gospel plea from Frank Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls.” Bill Daugherty brought blowzy distinction to the heavenly pilgrimage that soared to the rafters and beyond.
No Broadway concert would be complete without a Cole Porter song, and with the composer’s homage to Shakespeare, Paul Schoeffler sang a version of “Were Thine That Special Face” that boasted true fervent glory and the kind of bold romanticism once defined by Alfred Drake in “Kiss Me, Kate.”
In a warming tribute to Robert Goulet, who died last month, William Michals offered a fervent reading of “If Ever I Would Leave You,” the Lerner-Loewe ballad introduced by Goulet in his Broadway debut as Sir Lancelot in “Camelot.” It was a glorious moment of unmiked romanticism.
Emily Skinner reached back to 1929 for Vincent Youmans’ alluring ballad “More Than You Know,” with its rarely heard verse, and Siegel cited the year 1949, when “South Pacific” garnered nine Tony Awards, including four for those in the principal acting roles. Martin Vidnovic offered a subtly graceful performance of “This Nearly Was Mine,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein song of longing and sweet desperation that turned Ezio Pinza into a romantic icon.
Citing the stagehands strike that has crippled the theatrical holiday season, Siegel noted the current shortage of music on Broadway but expressed thanks for his stagehands and “the sound, by God!”