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  WINDY CITY TIMES

STREAMING THEATER REVIEW Broadway by the Decade
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2020-09-29

This article shared 1253 times since Tue Sep 29, 2020
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Playwright: Various composer & lyricists

At: Streaming on Vimeo. Tickets: PorchlightMusicTheatre.org; $15-$50. Runs through: Oct. 25

Most musical-theater fans will get a kick out of this well-produced and very well-sung 45-minute dive into Broadway history. Inevitably, however, serious students of musical theater ( me ) will have quibbles about what's been included and what hasn't.

This streaming revue is narrated by Porchlight artistic director Michael Weber, who also directed it. Weber offers a general introduction about the origins of American musical theater ( which didn't exist 150 years ago ) leading to 10 songs, one for each Broadway musical decade from the 1920s to the present. This eliminates George M. Cohan, Victor Herbert and early shows by the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin among others ( although the Gershwins and Berlin are represented by later works ). Why not a one-hour show ( vs. 45 minutes ) so early 20th-century songs could be included?

What IS included is choice material performed by an ensemble including Neala Baron, Blu, Darilyn Burtley, Lucy Godinez, Donterrio Johnson, James Earl Jones II, Michelle Lauto and Michael McBride ( pianist and musical director ), each of whom participates in several numbers either solos or combos.

Burtley kicks off with a smoky rendition of "Can't Help Lovin' That Man of Mine" from Show Boat ( 1927 ), accompanied by McBride at a white grand piano. The physical vibe says "nightclub," with potted palms, red velvet drapes and shadowy lighting.

The clubby setting of the first four numbers appears to have been shot in a dance studio ( not that it matters ) before videographer Austin Packard takes us elsewhere. There's a wonderful endless tracking shot down a corridor, as Blu and Donterrio Johnson perform the title song from Guys and Dolls ( 1950 ). Then, various rooms of a spacious all-white loft apartment host the remaining numbers.

Tenor Jones knocks it out of the park with "Who Am I?" from Les Miz, while Baron and Godinez cut loose with big alto voices on "I Am My Own Best Friend" from Chicago ( 1975 ). Godinez also nails "She Used to Be Mine" from Waitress ( 2015 ), the final song in this compilation. Along the way, Lauto scores with "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl ( 1964 ).

McBride at the piano accompanies several songs, while others are backed by a full orchestra, seeming to play the original Broadway arrangements. I don't know how this was accomplished, but it's a neat trick! Likewise, audio engineer Eric Backus manages to record most of the numbers without any microphones visible ( overhead mics? ) for much richer and more professional sound than folks singing into their computer cameras.

Quibble: I'd have skipped the songs from Les Miz ( a foreign show ) and Beauty and the Beast ( written for the movie ) and kept the songs all American and all written for the stage.

Jonathan Abarbanel is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. His reviews also can be heard on 90.9 WDCB-FM "The Arts Section" every Sunday morning."


This article shared 1253 times since Tue Sep 29, 2020
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