In the treasured tradition of such lusty baritones as Alfred Drake and John Raitt, among others, performers and gypsies sang with Merman-esque grandeur in the fifth annual edition of Broadway Unplugged, the only microphone in sight positioned above to record the concert.
Matt Cavanaugh, who soon will be providing tenement ardor as Tony in the forthcoming revival of “West Side Story,” offered “Sometimes a Day Goes By,” a wistful recall from “Woman of the Year,” while Jeff McCarthy summoned an amorous past with “Once Upon a Time” from “All American.” The bracing velvety texture of the baritones proved that a tender ballad could reach the heights of Town Hall as well as a rousing anthem.
William Michals, a standby for the role of Emile de Becque in the Lincoln Center revival of “South Pacific” brought a richly flavored sense of longing to “If I Can’t Love Her” from “Beauty and the Beast.” Chuck Cooper offered a show stopping sense of fun and fancy with Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin'” followed by Kurt Weill’s reverent soliloquy, “Lost in the Stars.” Cooper’s sonorous thrust was a keenly savored concert highlight.
For an explosive comic highlight, Bill Daugherty offered a manic turn from “The Producers.” Marc Kudisch, prepping up for a forthcoming turn on Broadway in “Nine To Five,” brought a dash of rugged grandeur to “Bless Your Beautiful Hide,” the Johnny Mercer-Gene DePaul ode to a betrothed backwoods lass from “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” The 1954 MGM Hollywood tuner made a brief transition to the Broadway in 1982. Kudisch invested the rouser with an extra blessing by serenading the very pregnant Christiane Noll.
A lovely Noll celebrated her pregnancy with an electrifying “The Story Goes On” from “Baby,” and Ashley Brown, the beguiling star of “Mary Poppins” visited Broadway’s former glories with “I’ll Know,” Frank Loesser’s expectation of true love from “Guys and Dolls” and Cole Porter’s classic celebration of Gotham from “The New Yorkers,” “I Happen To Like New York.”
For an election year postscript an exhilarating quartet, composed of Jeremy Benton, Benjie Randall, Anna White and Eric Denman tapped a politically correct “Love is Sweeping the Country” from the Gershwin’s Pulitzer Prize winner, “Of Thee I Sing.”