Sarah Litzsinger and Christopher Sieber perform a numberfrom Beauty and the Beast for the Bryant Park crowd
Sarah Litzsinger and Christopher Sieber perform a number
from Beauty and the Beast for the Bryant Park crowd
Long since reclaimed from the drug dealers who brought it the nickname "Needle Park," the gorgeous, green oasis that is now Bryant Park--located on Sixth Avenue at 42nd Street, behind the main branch of the New York Public Library--has become a home for all sorts of wholesome activities, from the Monday night summer film festival sponsored by HBO to the annual "Seventh on Sixth" celebration of fashion. Great news for theatergoers is that musical excerpts from Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, performed by actual company members, have been added to the mix of events in the park via a series of lunchtime concerts held every Thursday between noon and 2pm, hosted by the radio station Jammin' 105.

Be advised that the biggest Broadway stars tend not to show for these concerts, preferring no doubt to indulge in some much-needed R&R. Eric McCormack, for example, did not participate in the July 5 presentation of songs from The Music Man. And, on July 12, the roles of Aida, Radames, and Amneris in vocal excerpts from Disney's Aida were sung by standbys Schele Williams, Will Chase, and Felicia Finley rather than by Heather Headley, Adam Pascal, and Taylor Dayne. On the other hand, Beauty and the Beast enlisted first-stringers Sarah Litzsinger, Steve Blanchard, and Christopher Sieber to put over a few numbers from that show for a delighted audience of several thousand, also on July 12.

Sieber between sets
Sieber between sets
"This is the fist time I've ever done anything like this," Sieber told me during a break between sets in the park. "I've been to 'Broadway on Broadway' in Times Square, and I always thought it would be fun to perform outdoors for lots of people. The press agent asked me if I'd like to do this, and I said, 'Sure! If I'm going to be outside on a summer day, singing songs I already know, how hard can that be?' It's a great crowd, a beautiful day, a beautiful park."

Distractions of all sorts are endemic to outdoor performances, as any frequent attendee of free concerts by the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic in the city's parks can attest. Asked if he felt that the lunchers and sunbathers present in Bryant Park were paying attention to the Broadway performers, Sieber responded, "Absolutely. I was surprised at the reaction we got, because I wasn't sure if they would actually be listening. But people were really into it. They laughed at the right moments, which was good!"

Jammin' 105 presented al fresco Broadway concerts for several years downtown in the World Trade Center area when the station was called Big 105; this is the series' third year in Bryant Park. Though The Producers is not scheduled to participate, other big-ticket items such as 42nd Street and The Full Monty will be sampled. According to Shannon Reilly of Jammin' 105, "We're very lucky in that we get all the major shows. Our listeners constantly call the station to find out what's coming up." Reilly notes that non-musicals will have some kind of representation at the concerts: Linda Lavin, star of The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, is scheduled to host excerpts from Kiss Me, Kate, Rent, and tick, tick...BOOM! on August 2, while Renée Taylor and Joe Bologna of the new Broadway comedy If You Ever Leave Me, I'm Going With You will introduce numbers from Chicago, Annie Get Your Gun, 42nd Street, and I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change on August 16.

Other future programs are set to highlight Fosse, The Full Monty, and Love, Janis (July 26, hosted by Ben Vereen) and Stomp, The Rocky Horror Show, and Blast! (August 9). Those who want to get a jump on next season should make a special note that songs from the upcoming Broadway musical Thoroughly Modern Millie will be performed--along with numbers from the long-running Cabaret and another show TBA--in the final concert on August 23. (The schedule is not set in stone, so those interested in catching a particular show or performer are advised to check the website www.jammin105.com for updates.)

Kees Stahl and Emily Hess
Kees Stahl and Emily Hess
Bryant Park draws people from all walks of life, of course; but, due to its location, it is especially attractive to office workers on a break--whether the break is an hour for lunch or much longer in duration. Emily Hess and Kees Stahl, who had come together to see the July 12 Broadway concert, described themselves respectively as a midtown office worker and "a dot-com refugee who's taking the summer off." Hess enthused that "It's great to see the actors in casual clothes, performing up there for the public. I go to Broadway shows, but I haven't seen either Beauty and the Beast or Aida. One of the best things about New York City is that you can see stuff like this free." Was Hess on her lunch break? "No. I'm at a meeting right now." Stahl added, deadpan: "And I'm on an interview."

This Thursday (July 19) in Bryant Park, it's Les Miz, Phantom, and a wild card: Bat Boy. Be there!