Scott Siegel, founder and host of “Broadway by the Year,” now in its third concert season at Town Hall, noted that 1953 was the year Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated president, Stalin died and Queen Elizabeth II was crowned.
There were eight new musicals on Broadway that year. “Can Can” was the penultimate Broadway outing from the pen of Cole Porter and a triumph for then-28-year-old dancer Gwen Verdon. “Wonderful Town,” by Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green and Betty Comden, turned out to be a spirited musical comedy vehicle for film star Rosalind Russell. “Kismet,” inspired by the musical themes of Aleksandr Borodin, garnered the Tony musical kudo along with top honors for its lead actor, Alfred Drake.
Debbie Gravitte sang “Can Can’s” “It’s All Right With Me” and “Here’s That Rainy Day,” a haunting torcher from “Carnival in Flanders,” a musical that opened and closed within a week. (The show’s star, Dolores Gray, nabbed a Tony and holds the record for a winner with the least amount of performances, six.)
It was a joy to hear a few additional songs from the “Flanders” score of Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen. “The Sudden Thrill” and “Take the Word of a Gentleman” were nicely sung by Edward Staudenmayer, and “For a Moment of Your Love” was stunningly rendered by Davis Gaines. The score was well worth revisiting.
Scott Coulter brought a vigorous sense of Big Apple ardor to “Every Street’s a Boulevard (in Old New York)” from “Hazel Flagg.” The song, by Bob Hilliard and Jule Styne, later served in the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis pic “Living It Up.” Unfortunately, the rest of the original score was scrapped.
Another gorgeous score was from the short-lived “Maggie,” based on J.M. Barrie’s “What Every Woman Knows.” Andrea Burns sang a trenchantly focused “My Mind’s on You,” while Coulter beautifully crooned “You Become Me.” The score by William Roy, the longtime accompanist for cabaret doyenne Julie Wilson, boasts a most notable tune, “Charm.” It is a favorite on the nightclub circuit, and its absence was the biggest oversight of the evening.
Coulter, joined by Julia Murney, offered an ardent duet of “No Other Love” from “Me and Juliet.” Richard Rodgers took the melody from his suite written for the wartime television series “Victory at Sea.” With lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, it became the show’s enduring hit ballad.
Gaines, a long-running Broadway Phantom blessed with rich and flavorful Broadway pipes, sang the haunting “A Quiet Girl,” from “Wonderful Town,” and joined Burns, sans mike, for a stunning “Stranger in Paradise.”
Peter Flynn’s staging was clean and direct. Siegel, who offered a witty linking narrative for the evening, has crafted the concept with a keen awareness of tempo and talent. The sold-out series has become a Gotham hot ticket; this is his ninth concert in three years.
Next up in the series is “Broadway Musicals of 1960” with Brent Barrett, Marc Kudisch, Tovah Feldshuh and Eddie Korbish on June 9, and an encore performance on June 23 of the 1925 revue, which suffered poor attendance due to a wintry blizzard when first presented earlier this year.