Theater scribe Scott Siegel returned to Town Hall on Friday to host the second annual Broadway Cabaret Festival. Kickoff event saluted composer Jerome Kern, the father of musical theater and creator of stylish, melodious and musically advanced songs for the stage. A handful of attractive young Broadway performers barely scratched the surface of Kern’s extraordinary legacy as they served up 20 songs with sumptuous melody and the embracing lyrics of Kern’s collaborators, Oscar Hammerstein II, Johnny Mercer, Dorothy Fields and Ira Gershwin.
Gershwin, in fact, was reported to have earned more in royalties from “Long Ago (and Far Away)” than from any lyric he wrote with brother George. The song, from the film “Cover Girl,” was sung by Stephen Bogardus with a fervent sense of longing and desire.
Bogardus also rendered “All the Things You Are,” with its lyric by Hammerstein, who always regretted using the word “divine” but was at a loss to find an alternative. Bogardus caressed the melodic core and defined the song’s ardent declaration.
From “They Didn’t Believe Me,” penned a mere 92 years ago and winsomely rendered by Nancy Anderson, to Cady Huffman’s passionate devotion to “Bill,” the ensemble cast presented Kern’s lustrous melodic range.
Director Mindy Cooper governed a tight progression of performers and choreographed a slick Noah Racey and a pert Anderson in “A Fine Romance,” with teasing lyrics by Fields. Their frisky dance turn brought down the house. Racey returned for an infectiously spirited and appealing tap as he declared “I Won’t Dance.”
The surprising finale turned out to be one of those theatrical moments that live on in memory. Apparently Michael Bell, who was scheduled to sing “Ol’ Man River,” had to cancel due to a cruise ship gig that was pulling out of the harbor at curtain time. At mid-afternoon, Roosevelt Andre Credit was summoned to perform and hurried to Town Hall for a sound check.
Credit’s great earthy voice boomed out the riverboat classic from “Show Boat” with a fervent and compelling sense of storytelling. Credit made a thrilling statement that brought the cheering aud to its feet.