There was a time, not so long ago, when voices like those of Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Alfred Drake and John Raitt soared to the top of the house sans electrical enhancement. In his third annual Broadway Unplugged concert at Town Hall, producer-host Scott Siegel noted his roster of Broadway ingenues and gypsies returned to that age by fully grasping the meaning of that old clarion call, “Sing out, Louise!”
The earliest example of landmark musical theater before microphones came into use was illustrated in a rousing display of patriotic sentimentality with “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” the flavorful 1904 ditty from “Little Johnny Jones.” A lanky Jeffry Denman sang the George M. Cohan flag-waver, punctuating it with a spirited tap dance.
Sixty years later, a body mike was fashioned for Carol Channing in “Hello, Dolly!” and, reluctantly, for Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl.” The latter show provided Liz McCartney with a rather strident “Coronet Man” that tooted to the top of the house.
Celebrating the 10th anniversary of “Chicago,” a hard-boiled Barb Jungr all but cracked a whip with the prison matron’s commandment “When You’re Good to Mama,” while a pert Nancy Anderson captured the saucy spirit of Victor Herbert’s 1910 operetta “Naughty Marietta.”
Sarah Uriarte Berry demurely demonstrated that she knew something about stage restraint and poise with a lovely “Somebody Somewhere.” Berry turned the song by Frank Loesser, from his ambitiously operatic “The Most Happy Fella,” into a passionate plea in the evening’s most stunning moment.
The concert’s funniest prize was provided by “The Drowsy Chaperone” Tony winner Beth Leavel, in the role of a rejected and exhausted Mrs. Santa Claus, singing an irreverent “Surabaya-Santa” from Jason Robert Brown’s Off Broadway revue “Songs for a New World.”
Despite the overexposure of “The Impossible Dream,” William Michals, with a voice that knows no boundaries, made that standard sound as fresh as a world-premiere performance. With booming clarity, the hymn appeared to rise beyond the balcony “to reach the unreachable star.”