Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Review - Broadway by the Year - Berkshire Theatre Festival
There is something rustically elegant and exquisitely symbolic about the wooden screen doors that gently swing open to the Berkshire Playhouse. They are an effortless gesture to the heritage and style of New England summer theatre. It is as if the building itself, designed by Stanford White in 1888 and now on the National Register of Historic Places, is both conscious and yet demure about its prestigious history.
Inside, a more pointed display is on hand with a number of headshots from stars of the past several decades, and period posters to which the patrons are riveted when they are not out catching the summer breeze on the porch, or having a drink on lawn.
The Berkshire Theatre Festival began in 1928, and celebrates its 81st season. Currently “Broadway By the Year” is playing here, and like the old wooden playhouse, makes the past real and relevant.
Musical review series created for New York’s The Town Hall by Scott Siegel, focused this time on the year 1930 and 1964. Mr. Siegel wrote the narrative which accompanies the songs, and hosted. His remarks were insightful, humorous, and along with his depth and knowledge of Broadway history, showed a warm admiration for the hits and stars of the past that the audience clearly shared and appreciated.
The singers were Scott Coulter, who also directed; as well as Christiane Noll, and Kerry O’Malley. Piano accompaniment was provided by Ross Patterson, musical director.
The 1930 segment featured songs from “Girl Crazy,” “The New Yorkers”, “Three’s a Crowd”, “Simple Simon”, “Nina Rosa”, “The 9:15 Review”, and “Strike Up the Band.”
The 1964 portion featured songs from “Fiddler on the Roof”, “High Spirits”, “Anyone Can Whistle,”, “Funny Girl”, and “Hello Dolly!”
Mr. Coulter’s mellow tenor was accompanied to great effect by Ms. O’Malley’s powerful, rich voice with its great range, and Ms. Noll’s beautiful high soprano. At a few turns in the show, most notably during “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler”, and “I Got Rhythm” the trio exhibited terrific close harmony.
First act costumes were formal and evocative of the era of 1930, and the second act boldly announced 1964 in the mod and colorful style, right down to Mr. Siegel’s multicolored tied and cummerbund, as if we’d all just gotten color TV.
Highlights included Ms. O’Malley’s second act opening shot-out-of-a-cannon rendition of “Don’t Rain on My Parade”, Ms. Noll’s tear-filled eyes at the end of “But Not For Me”, Ms. O’Malley’s lusty and fun “Home Sweat Heaven” sung on top of the piano, the soulful “Ribbons Down My Back” by Ms. Noll, and Mr. Coulter’s wistful “Anyone Can Whistle.”
The show continues through June 27th. It is a real treat, and well worth seeing. If you’ve seen it, let us know what you think.