By Joel Benjamin
It’s difficult for anyone under the age of sixty to understand what it was like to go to a show where the actors were not miked to death. Back then an entire well-dressed audience would actually lean a bit forward and, believe it or not, focus on the show and the performers. Scott Siegel’s Broadway Unplugged 2012 (December 3rd) came close to re-creating those wonderful sensations of anticipation and concentration. He gathered fourteen brave and exciting singers to plant their feet on the Town Hall stage and aim their voices into the stratosphere accompanied by a small band led by Music Director Ross Patterson.
Most sang two songs showing off complementary acting skills. Julia Murney opened the show with Kander & Ebb’s sardonic “And the World Goes ‘Round” and also led a sing-a-long of Berlin’s classic “White Christmas,” dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Likewise, unplugged veteran Bill Daugherty was hilarious in “Where Was I When They Passed Out the Luck” from Minnie’s Boys and very touching “You Walk with Me” from The Full Monty with the incredibly talented Scott Coulter. The two men, both tenors, pierced the air with their lovely harmonies. Coulter, another Siegel regular, joined with Christina Bianco and Carole J. Bufford for two life-affirming anthems: Sondheim’s “Being Alive” and “What I Did For Love” from A Chorus Line bringing tears to the eyes of the audience members.
Male pulchritude was represented by Cheyenne Jackson who radiated sensuality in “Breeze Off the River” (The Full Monty) and especially in an easygoing “Feeling Good” (Bricusse/Newley); and Andy Karl singing “Luck Be a Lady” (Guys and Dolls) and, with his wife, Orfeh, “Elaborate Lives” from Aida.
Barbara Walsh’s “Back to Before” (Ragtime) was clear-eyed, mature and heartbreaking.
Two artists were particularly impressive. Natalie Toro’s impassioned “Buenos Aires/Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” (Evita) was probably the best ever, all the more effective unplugged. She was seductive and powerful in equal measure. The biggest voice of the evening belonged to William Michals. He has the kind of voice that literally vibrates the entire house, resonating right into the bodies of the audience members. His “Soliloquy” from Carousel and “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha were so stupendously moving and exciting that I am amazed I haven’t seen him before. (My loss) This was theater at its best.
The cellist Mairi Dorman and the bassist Randy Landau, with Ross Patterson, made the perfect combo to accompany unamplified singers, creating many different timbres and effects that suited each song.
Maybe the success of Scott Siegel’s Broadway Unplugged will inspire some brave producer to take heed and go back to the future?
More Information about the upcoming Nightlife Awards – January 14, 2013 at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos: Maryann Lopinto