Whatever valid criticisms may exist concerning the City Center Encores! series in terms of recent show choices and casting, anyone who attended the series' Broadway Bash, held on November 18 and 19, had to put such thoughts aside for the time being.
It can be said without exaggeration that this was a concert full of show-stoppers, from Kristin Chenoweth's "Italian Street Song" from Naughty Marietta (1910, by Victor Herbert and Rida Johnson Young) to Randy Graff's "Nobody Does It Like Me" from Seesaw (1973, by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields) to Jubilant Sykes' moving rendition of the title song from Lost in the Stars (1949, by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson).
Staged by Kathleen Marshall, the event's other highlights included Howard McGillin's ardent singing of "Fanny" from Fanny (1954, by Harold Rome), Vanessa L. Williams' "Loads of Love" from No Strings (1962, with music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers) and "Lazy Afternoon" from The Golden Apple (1954, by Jerome Moross and John Latouche), and the ecstatic finale: "All The Things You Are" from Very Warm For May (1939, by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II) as sung by Chenoweth and McGillin, backed by the excellent chorus and The Coffee Club Orchestra under the leadership of Encores! musical director Rob Fisher. You no doubt have already heard that the emotional highlight of the evening was the 11 o'clock number: Donna Murphy's thrilling rendition of "I Happen to Like New York" from Cole Porter's The New Yorkers (1930), sung with tears in the performer's eyes but triumph in her magnificent voice.
One of the happiest fellas in the show had to be Jason Danieley (The Full Monty, Candide), who got to sing the little-known but indescribably beautiful "There's a Room in My House" from the flop John Kander-William Goldman-James Goldman musical A Family Affair (1962) as a duet with Melissa Errico. The original Broadway cast recording of the show has never appeared in full on CD, but I happened to hear this yearningly romantic number on a compilation disc issued by the Metropolitan Opera, sung to the hilt by Larry Kert and Rita Gardner. At the party after the second "Broadway Bash" performance, Danieley told me that he was totally unfamiliar with the song before it was assigned to him. So, how did he feel when he realized what a gift he'd been given? "It's gorgeous," he says. "John Kander wrote this beautiful melody that just soars. And to do the number with Melissa was such a treat, because we got to really act it."
Danieley also scored near the top of the show as he and McGillin led the stalwart male chorus in "Stouthearted Men" from The New Moon (1928, by Sigmund Romberg and Hammerstein). And Danieley was thrown yet another plum to sing in Act Two: "Mine 'Til Monday" from A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (1951, by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz). "Once I found out that I was doing a song from that show, I rented the movie, which I hadn't seen," he says. "I sat there by myself and watched it, and I was devastated. It's so beautiful! I don't know the musical, but if the rest of the score is that good and if they really stuck to the story of the book and the movie, I think it could be something powerful.
"You know," Danieley added, "when you hear a beautiful song like that one and 'There's a Room in My House,' you have to wonder if there's really something special in these shows, even though most people have never heard of them. I think what Encores! wanted to do with this Broadway Bash was to hear the orchestrations and hear the audience response. It's like putting a carrot in front of a mule, so to speak. They want to see if they think any of the shows would be worth doing." And the answer is: Yes!!!