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Broadway By the Year: 1939
By Dixie Feldman

Composite by ATOMIC 
The 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 so swell.

Of 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.

Town 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.

The 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 lyrics—whether 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.

The singers—most currently starring on The Great White Way—are 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 other numbers.

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 ballads.

Also 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.

If 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.

Behind in your reading?
Check out past ATOMIC features.

Cyber*Kool
Dear Dottie
1999 Articles List
2000 Articles List
2001 Articles List
2002 Articles List
2003 Articles List
2004 Articles List
Remembering Bing Crosby
Carnival Knowledge
Vintage Skivvies Lets It All Hang Out
Destroy Puny Humans!
Broadway By the Year: 1939
Michael Lesy's Altered States
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