Producer Scott Siegel noted that in the year 1949, gas was 17¢ a gallon, dinner at Schrafts cost $2 and the top ticket price at the theater was $6.60. He also quoted legendary producer Cheryl Crawford, who reportedly said of a new work by young playwright Arthur Miller, “Who would want to see a play about a traveling salesman?”
The latest concert in the appealing “Broadway by the Year” series celebrated the musicals of 1949. The roster included Irving Berlin’s “Miss Liberty,” Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars,” Jule Styne’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and the Rodgers & Hammerstein romantic classic “South Pacific.”
A Town Hall tradition in the 4-year-old series is the performance of songs rendered sans aid of electronic enhancement. Unmiked performances included “A Cockeyed Optimist” and “A Wonderful Guy,” delivered with spunky elan by Karen Ziemba, and richly textured renditions of “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine” by Martin Vidnovic, re-creating the sublime grandeur of Ezio Pinza.
Also unplugged was a sextet perf of “Bali Hai,” sung in about the time it reportedly took Richard Rodgers to write the melody. The appealing dancing team of this season’s “Never Gonna Dance,” Nancy Lemenager and Noah Racey, re-created a sparkling song and dance from “All for Love” called “No Time for Nothin’ but You.” Cady Huffman’s performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” boasted the proper glitter and glow created more than a half-century ago by Carol Channing.
Berlin’s “Mr. Monotony” was dropped from “Miss Liberty” and “Call Me Madam,” and Judy Garland’s take on the tune in “Easter Parade” was left on the cutting-room floor. The song eventually made its Broadway debut in “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.” Whew! It was a long journey for a song in which Marla Schaffel revealed the moral with tongue-in-cheek humor.
Ziemba also paired with her “Never Gonna Dance” co-star Racey in a jaunty dancing stroll for “Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk.” Ziemba, skedded to play Miss Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls” come June at the New Jersey Paper Mill, brightens the boards with her spirited presence. A capacity aud adored her every move.
Siegel’s nostalgic concerts always reveal some tasty forgotten rarities. Alongside the more memorable and durable Broadway scores of that season, there was a revue called “Along Fifth Avenue” that starred Nancy Walker, Carol Bruce and Jackie Gleason. Amusing highlights: a sultry Huffman singing “Call It Apple Fritters”; portly Lennie Watts’ zany sombrero serenade “Santo Dinero”; and a big-city serenade called “Skyscraper Blues,” ably crooned by baritone Robert Westenberg.
Another plum recall was Marc Blitzstein’s “What Will It Be?” from “Regina,” a musicalization of Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes.” Schaffel re-created a worthy moment from a show that ran for a paltry 56 perfs.
And it’s unlikely that even in Gotham piano bars you’ll find a performer willing to fill a request for “The Humphrey Bogart Rhumba.” Musical director Ross Patterson took the challenge, reviving a novelty tune that enjoyed modest jukebox success.