In it’s seventh season, “Broadway by the Year” has found a real comfort zone in the year 1959, a season that produced such landmark musicals as “Fiorello!,” “The Sound of Music,” “Take Me Along,” “Redhead,” “Once Upon a Mattress” and the durable backstage classic “Gypsy.” Despite the abundance of well-weathered show tunes, the roster of assembled talent didn’t quite measure up to that of previous concerts. But it appeared to matter little to the capacity audience that cheered every note — even those in some forgettable tunes.
Host Scott Siegel noted that in the chosen year, the Cold War was in full bloom, Castro came into power, and such pleasures as pantyhose, the Wiffle Ball and the Barbie doll were introduced. On Broadway, Ethel Merman and Mary Martin were at the top of their game as Mama Rose and Maria Von Trapp, respectively.
It’s now hard to believe that Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s biomusical “Gypsy” was dismissed by Tony voters, but it took the prize at Town Hall. Josh Prince invested boyish charm and heightened song-and-dance savvy in “All I Need is the Girl,” which turned out to be the evening’s most spirited moment. Emily Skinner contributed a vigorously abrasive take on “Some People,” and a male trio comprised of Mark Jacoby, Manoel Felciano and Marc Kudish (who also directed) did the bumps and grinds for “You Gotta Have a Gimmick.” It turned out to be a clever if overcooked version of the strippers’ battle hymn, with Jacoby coming off best as he bumped it with a trumpet.
Pulitzer winner “Fiorello!” was nicely served by Jacoby, who sang the Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock ballad “When Did I Fall in Love?” with defining ardor. The same show’s “Little Tin Box” was a curious absentee.
The revue “The Nervous Set,” with songs by Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf, produced a number that has become a cabaret staple, “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” The song is seldom performed by a male vocalist, and Felciano revealed its blossoming beauty.
Hollywood scribe Bruce Vilanch did his blowzy drag bit with “Shy” from “Once Upon a Mattress,” by Mary Rodgers and Marshall Barer. Siegel noted that the 1959 season was the only time in theatrical history that a father and daughter, Richard and Mary Rodgers, had tuners on Broadway in the same season.
Prince returned, joined by a pert Nancy Lemenager, to cavort as delightful ragamuffin clowns in “I’ll Try,” by Dorothy Fields and Albert Hague. The duet originally served Gwen Verdon and Richard Kiley in the musical murder mystery “Redhead.”
A specialty of the series are the unmiked selections that found a strident Mary Bond Davis, sans electrical enhancement, screaming “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” with a defiant edge, and Sara Jane McMahon bringing a serene, yet soaring reverence to “Climb Every Mountain.”
For the record, there were songs from Harold Rome’s frontier tuner “Destry Rides Again,” Bert Lahr revue “The Girls Against the Boys” and Marc Blitzstein’s “Juno.” In his amusing accompanying narrative, Siegel recalled the ongoing “Destry” feud between choreographer Michael Kidd and his tempestuous star, Dolores Gray.
Final concert for the series is June 18, when part two of 1964 will collect more songs from “Hello, Dolly!,” “Funny Girl,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Anyone Can Whistle,” among others.