Celebrating its ninth season, the four-part Broadway by the Year concert series focused first on 1924, a year that gave birth to the crossword puzzle and Macy’s annual Thanksgiving day parade. It was also the year of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and a time in which the fervent romanticism of old-world operettas by the likes of Sigmund Romberg and Rudolf Friml offered a bountiful dose of syrupy seduction.
One of the decade’s most enduring duets found Marc Kudisch and Sarah Jane McMahon fervently cooing to Friml’s “Indian Love Call” with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach. Despite the opening love-struck, off-stage oo-oo-hoo’s that summoned a few titters from the audience, the pair nestled into the rapturous melodic warmth of the piece and re-created a heart swelling union, later re-created on the screen by Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.
With beer steins raised high, a rousing quintet led by Kudisch offered “The Drinking Song” from “The Student Prince.” The foamy anthem, of course, became a great favorite with Prohibition Era theater patrons. The show turned out to be Romberg’s longest-running operetta; the Town Hall audience wallowed in the ardent coupling of McMahon and Ryan Silverman singing “Deep in My Heart,” followed by James Barbour’s trenchant “Serenade.”
Flappers flourished and there was a dance step that was all the rage, introduced by Fred and Adele Astaire — brightly recreated by Broadway’s captivating newlyweds, Jeffry and Erin Denman — “I’d Rather Charleston.” The Gershwin score also produced “The Man I Love” which was dropped before the show reached New York. Diva Kerry O’Malley invested the torch song with sultry allure.
Dazzling young tap dancer Kendrick Jones, concert regular and audience favorite, added a keen display of elegance and grace to “Lady Be Good.” With the sole accompaniment of his ukulele, Denman, late of “White Christmas” who staged and choreographed the concert, brought a plaintive simplicity to Irving Berlin’s lonely lament “All Alone.”
An added plus found the Howard Fishman Quartet swinging through “Limehouse Blues” and “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” recalling the jazz of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.