The ups and downs of love have fascinated musical theater's greatest songwriters (and all of humanity) for the past century, so Tony Award-winning musical director Ted Sperling (South Pacific) took on a tall order when he selected only 14 tunes to create the new song cycle Broadway Romance. The show is now running at the Café Carlyle, where it is performed with grace and charm by Howard McGillin (Phantom of the Opera) and Rebecca Luker (Mary Poppins). And even if many favorites are missing from this sweet potpourri, this musical exploration of one fictional couple's relationship yields satisfying rewards.
Consummate pros, blessed with pristine voices that seem to have barely aged in the past 30 years, McGillin and Luker effortlessly tap into the feelings of love's first blossoming in their opening numbers: Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein's "Something's Coming" and George and Ira Gershwin's "The Man I Love," respectively. Immediately after, the pair remind us of the dizzying nervousness that accompanies meeting that person for the first time with two songs from Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock's She Loves Me: "Tonight at Eight" and "Will He Like Me," immediately followed by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's catchy yet heartfelt "First Date/Last Night" (from the recent Off-Broadway musical Dogfight).
As the cycle continues through its 70 minutes, the song choices range from the slightly predictable (a spirited version of Irving Berlin's delicious duet "An Old Fashioned Wedding," for example), to the less expected. In the latter category, Luker shows off a surprising comic flair as the befuddled bride in Stephen Sondheim's "Getting Married Today," and shortly thereafter expertly embraces her darker side as the bitter, long-suffering spouse in Sondheim's caustic "Could I Leave You?"
The best moments, however, brought the performers together as a group to make true magic. McGillin, Luker, and Sperling make marvelous mischief with E.Y. Harburg and Burton Lane's slyly satirical "The Begat," while Luker and McGillin blend their soaring voices seamlessly on both Lynn Ahrens' and Stephen Flaherty's gorgeous "Our Children" and Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's "They Were You."
Indeed, to quote from another of the evening's selections, listening to Broadway Romance was almost like being in love.
Broadway Romance continues at the Café Carlyle through January 26.