Opening a seventh season of Broadway by the Year, producer-host Scott Siegel noted that in 1928 Peter Pan peanut butter arrived on grocery shelves, and Kraft introduced Velveeta cheese. On Broadway, the book musical was still in its infancy, the operetta was making a grand final stand, and the revue format continued to flourish. Once again, Siegel and his merry band of gypsies recalled a bygone era on the Great White Way and the enduring legacy of its songs.
With its sweeping romantic score by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein, “The New Moon” was perhaps the last great operetta, containing more hit songs than any other Romberg musical. In the series tradition of performing numbers without electronic enhancement, an unmiked Paul Schoeffler and Nancy Anderson duetted for a hauntingly lovely version of “Wanting You,” while Shoeffler sang the picturesque “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise,” their voices soaring in the hushed house.
From the same score, Lari White, who debuts this week in the Algonquin’s Oak Room, made an ardent plea for an errant lover with “Lover Come Back to Me,” and the entire male cast assembled for a rousing turn with “Stouthearted Men.” White also recalled the big hurt that became the enduring trademark tune for jazz baby Ruth Etting, “Love Me or Leave Me.”
Bob Martin, co-creator and star of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” joined host Siegel for some banter and served as an unwitting target for Leah Hocking’s aggressively seductive and very funny “Let’s Do It.” Siegel recalled that composer Cole Porter replaced the song’s original, tasteless references with the less offensive use of birds and bees.
Jeffrey Denman offered a subtle reading of Noel Coward’s “A Room With a View,” while Lumiri Tubo took a hot jazz journey with W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues,” prompting a standing ovation.
A playful Anderson recalled the boop-boop-a-doop charm of Helen Kane with “I Wanna Be Loved by You,” and Eddie Korbich revived the comic antics of both Groucho Marx with “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” and the wide-eyed innocence of Eddie Cantor’s naughty confessional “Makin’ Whoopee.”
Adding to the fun, kewpie doll Joyce Chittick choreographed a spirited dance turn from “Earl Carroll Vanities” and joined Denman for a flapper-flavored duet, “Heaven Hop.”
Siegel’s anecdotal narrative punctuated the recap of the era with insight and humor. His scrapbook of the past is a musical museum that chronicles the evolution of a bountiful American art form. Broadway by the Year continues March 26, celebrating the musicals of 1938.