June 20, 2009 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
Broadway by the Year, now playing at the Berkshire Theatre Festival is much more than the average musical review. An ensemble of talented singers/actors, Christiane Noll, Kerry O’Malley, and Scott Coulter, with musical director Ross Patterson at the grand piano, and host/writer Scott Siegel at a down left lectern, involve us in far more than a trip down memory lane.
On a stage, bare except for a grand piano and lectern, but with a wonderful backdrop that changes colors, dancing stars and even briefly a Manhattan skyline, they bring alive songs from two, widely separated decades of Broadway musicals.
In Act I, the time is 1930s and the musicals from which the songs come are forgotten but not the names of their, then young, composers, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, and others.
But if the musicals themselves did not endure, songs did, and they are linked together by rapid fire narration, friendly and informative with brief insightful comments by host Seigel.
The songs we all recognize are presented as solos, trios, and duets. The singers are costumed in garb of the period. Delightful too is the fact that the marvelous piano accompaniment gives time for openings that lead into the songs, and that the actors use the stage area in multiple ways, whether it is assembling around the piano, being isolated in a duet far down right and left, or hamming it up in a rousing trio or draping atop a piano.
In the second act of this two hour show, the host takes us into a period 37 years later. We are in 1964, the Beatles aren’t quite number one yet and not included. But the shows can include successes such as Hello, Dolly!, Fiddler on the Roof, Funny Girl, Anyone Can Whistle, and High Spirits.
The costumes are now those of the late 60’s and the mood lighter. Staging and lighting again contributing to the songs themselves, not the “Ten Cents a Dance” of the Great Depression period.
Songs this reviewer enjoyed most, though far more pleased as well, were O’Malley’s “Home Sweet Heaven,” delivered from piano top by the returned spirit in the musical of Noel Coward’s play. Beautifully sung. “Anyone Can Whistle” high spot for Coulter,
and “Love for Sale” a haunting duet by the two sopranos in marvelous staging, at first a solo for the talented Noll, destitute and alone and on the street, to be joined and made a duet by O’Malley at the far left corner, joining her in the song, but both isolated in their dreary profession. Unforgettable moment.
Even the deluge that greeted audience members exiting the theatre did not dampen the gala in the tent once the countless umbrellas were furled again. Among the evening’s song had been a delightful “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and, if literally it tried to, metaphorically it didn’t. So director Scott Coulter could be pleased with his production.