By the Year: 1939
By Dixie Feldman
economy is in the dumps. There's a dangerous dictator or
two threatening world peace. War is imminent. The ranks
of the unemployed are swelling. In other words, things ain't
course, I'm talking about the year 1939. (What did you
think I was talking about?) And despite that bygone era's
not-so-gone problems, it still had plenty going for it.
Classic films like Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of
Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights, Dark
Victory, and Stagecoach were all made in 1939.
And then there was the music! The big band era was in
full swing, and Broadway was bursting with hit musicals
by the likes of Cole Porter and Rogers & Hart.
Hall's acclaimed Broadway by the Year series takes
a walk down memory lane to a time when Broadway's music
made its way on to the hit parade and into the hearts
and tapping toes of Americans across the land. Showcasing
favorite melodies and lesser-known gems, the series focuses
on four distinct years of Broadway history, including
"The Musicals of 1939," recently performed to
a packed house on March 17th.
show featured standards like "I Didn't Know What
Time It Was" and "Comes Love," as well
as more obscure numbers from 1939's Broadway musicals,
including the productions Stars in Your Eyes, Cole Porter's
DuBarry Was a Lady (both shows starred Ethel Merman!),
Rodgers & Hart's Too Many Girls, and the lively
jazz revue The Hot Mikado. What makes this series
particularly engaging is that it hammers home just how
supernaturally talented songwriters were back then. The
melodies, the lyricswhether they are recognizable
standards or tunes you've never heard before, the music
is fantastic. And the songs are done justice by the fantastic
musicianship of Ross Patterson's Little Big Band, who
are simply superb.
singersmost currently starring on The Great White
Wayare all wonderful, with great big voices. Of
course, sometimes, a great big cabaret-style, Broadway
voice isn't called for by some of the more subtle standards.
Still, everyone in the cast was polished and talented.
The steadfastly elfin Annie Golden was a standout with
the bluesy numbers, although her personality didn't make
her the star of the show. That honor goes to Darius De
Haas, who blew everyone else away with his incredible
vocal talent and winning charm. Many of his songs elicited
hoots and cheers from the audience beyond the polite and
perfunctory (though well-deserved) applause received after
Special guest Steve Ross did a wonderful job channeling
Noel Coward with "I Went to a Marvelous Party,"
and Amanda McBroom brought her considerable skills to
"Mad About the Boy." Bryan Batt's unexpected
rendition of "South American Way," which had
been Carmen Miranda's star-making vehicle, was winning,
while husband and wife Rob Gallagher and Marie Danvers
brought a more operatic style to many of the evening's
worth mentioning are the commentaries by series creator
and host Scott Siegel between songs. Uniformly informative
and often fascinating, they give you a sense of the era
and the people behind the shows. Many of the songs themselves
also served as eye-opening glimpses into the social and
political Zeitgeist of '39. For example, "Doin' the
Chamberlain," a satirical number from The Streets
of Paris decrying Britain's feckless Prime Minister
and his appeasement, was eerily resonant today.
you love good tunes, good singing, and can hum at least
two of the songs from, say, Roberta and Too
Many Girls, this series will not disappoint. It's
a fascinating and entertaining evening spent with classic
songs and outstanding performers. Next in the line up
are the musicals of 1953 on Monday, May 12 (including
selections from Kismet, Wonderful Town, and Me
and Juliet), and from 1960 on Monday, June 9 (including
music from Bye Bye Birdie, Camelot, Greenwillow,
and The Unsinkable Molly Brown). Tickets are $37.50
and $40 through Ticketmaster
at 212-307-4100 or the Town
Hall Box Office, 212-840-2824, located at 123 W 43rd
Street in New York City.
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