The Broadway Musicals at The Town Hall
A talk with Scott Siegel about his Town Hall series of concerts showcasing songs from bygone Broadway musicals.
So, how many songs do you know from Hold Your Horses, Strike Me Pink, Murder at the Vanities, or Champagne Sec? Not many? Not any? Me, too. Which is why I'm looking forward to Scott Siegel's The Broadway Musicals of 1933 at Town Hall on Monday night.
It'll take place one day short of a year after Siegel hosted The Broadway Musicals of 1943 at The Town Hall. That show worked out so splendidly that Siegel did The Broadway Musicals of 1957 a month after. Now he's readying the third jewel of his triple crown with Mary Testa, George Dvorsky, Anne Runolfsson, and Siegel himself on hand.
The Broadway Musicals of 1933 will feature songs from 11 different shows--including The Threepenny Opera, which made its 12-performance American debut that year. "We can't say for sure that we'll be doing the original translation, because that's said to be lost," says Siegel. "We do have what one researcher found in 1990 and thought might be that translation. Whatever the case, audiences won't just hear the 'Mack the Knife' and 'Pirate Jenny' they know from the famous Blitzstein adaptation." Other shows represented will include As Thousands Cheer (Irving Berlin), Let 'Em Eat Cake and Pardon My English (both by the Gershwins), Roberta (Jerome Kern), and Melody (Sigmund Romberg).
It all started because Siegel--a TheaterMania contributor with his wife, Barbara--hosts a film series at Town Hall that now boasts 600 subscribers. "I get the films that are about to open and a guest associated with each film," he says. Recently, that meant Peter Bogdanovich (yes, he talked a bit about At Long Last Love), who had directed The Cat's Meow with Eddie Izzard playing Charlie Chaplin. "What's so fascinating," says Siegel, "is that he discovered Izzard at Town Hall when Eddie was doing his solo show there."
During the third year of the film series, Siegel started thinking about a Broadway series for Town Hall. After all, he reasoned, the theater does host the Cabaret Convention and the MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabaret & Clubs) Awards. "So people who know and love the Great American Songbook like the place," he says. "Barbara and I see so many wonderful people in cabaret, and we felt that they just don't get to show what they do in front of enough people. I wanted to expand that narrow audience. Here's a chance to hear Mary Testa do more than play the comic lead; she can sing ballads, too!"
Of course, many of the songs lend themselves to outside-the-show presentation, because 1933 was a decade before musicals made a concerted attempt to have integrated songs. "We have a lot of pop music standards, or songs that should be," says Siegel. "There's '100 Years from Today,' which Patti LuPone sang as her final number at Carnegie Hall. Few know that it's from Blackbirds of 1934. Yes, a show with 1934 in its title was actually produced in 1933. They were looking ahead."
When you want to find sheet music for an enterprise like this, it's not long before you call Michael Lavine, the extraordinary collector who has everything (or darn close to it). He's been invaluable--"Especially," Siegel says, "because I've had this rule not to pick two years too close together. I also feel strongly about picking years in which familiar composers were produced; 1933 offered two Gershwin shows, an Irving Berlin, and a Sigmund Romberg. So I figured it must have good music."
The fact that an original cast album resulted from his 1943 evening is the one of the most pleasant surprises he's had from the shows. "What I didn't know is that Town Hall routinely does archival recordings," Siegel explains "Peter Pinne of Bayview Records called me because he'd heard about the shows, and we got together to see if we could do an album." Indeed, they could, and did. "At Footlights, it's ranked number four, outselling Bea Arthur," Siegel crows happily. He'll concede that its sales probably have less to do with the eight selections from Oklahoma! and more to do with the first recordings of "You Wash and I'll Dry" and "My Last Love" from Lerner and Loewe's first show, What's Up? Also adding to the luster is "Hold That Smile" from The Ziegfeld Follies of 1943. Still, according to Siegel, there won't be a recording of last year's The Broadway Musicals of 1957. "One singer we had felt she didn't sound well," he says, diplomatically declining to name her.
Siegel became enamored with Broadway while in high school in Fairlawn, New Jersey; his teacher arranged for a school trip to Man of La Mancha and, he recalls, "I was astonished at what I saw." He's been married for nearly 20 years to Barbara, with whom he frequently writes. "Francis Ford Coppola just happened to be there in the restaurant where we had our wedding reception, so we got him to sign our wedding contract," he says with a laugh.
Future Siegel shows include The Broadway Musicals of 1940 (including tunes from Higher and Higher, Keep off the Grass, Louisiana Purchase, Walk with Music, Cabin in the Sky, Panama Hattie, and Pal Joey), with Rob Evan, John Dossett, and Bryan Batt among the performing notables. On May 13, there'll be The Broadway Musicals of 1951 (sure, that means The King and I, but it also means Flahooley, Top Banana, Make a Wish, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Seventeen, and Two on the Aisle). Chip Zien, Davis Gaines, Amanda McBroom, and Alison Fraser will be on hand for that one.
Then comes the one that's making me count the days like a kid till Christmas: The Broadway Musicals of 1964. If anyone had any doubt that this was a particularly great year on the Main Stem, just look at who appeared in its musicals: Eileen Brennan, Carol Burnett, Carol Channing, Barbara Cook, Sammy Davis, Jr., Tammy Grimes, Buddy Hackett, Bert Lahr, Angela Lansbury, Steve Lawrence, Beatrice Lillie, Zero Mostel, Robert Preston, Lee Remick, Chita Rivera, Jean Stapleton, Barbra Streisand, Chita Rivera. Alas, none of them will be on hand, but certainly we'll hear songs from Anyone Can Whistle, Bajour, Ben Franklin in Paris, Fade Out-Fade In, Fiddler on the Roof, Foxy, Funny Girl, Golden Boy, Hello, Dolly!, High Spirits, I Had a Ball, Something More, and What Makes Sammy Run? To paraphrase a straight play from that same year: "Ready when you are, S.S.!"