Broadway Originals at Town Hall

On a spur-of-the-moment invite from SarahB, I found myself attending my first Broadway Originals concert today, which also marked my first time inside Town Hall. I’d heard of the concert, but had never gone. SarahB, on the other hand, has gone for several years and is always raving about it, so I figured, why not? It turns out to be a glorious afternoon celebrating those actors who introduced so many great songs to Broadway, as well as original cast members of various revivals.

Each act started with a visit from The Manhattan Rhythm Kings (Brian M. Nalepka, Tripp Hanson and Hal Shane) revisiting their songs from Crazy For You. Lorraine Serabian sang two numbers from Zorba, first Maria Karnilova’s “No Boom Boom” and closing the show with her own “Life Is.” Daisy Eagan joked about having one song, but adding “I’m working on that…” before she sang “The Girl I Mean to Be” from The Secret Garden. Bob Stillman reminded Sarah and I how much we loved him in Grey Gardens with his “Drift Away.” I’ve only been familiar with Sarah Uriarte Berry with her rangy coloratura turn as Franca in The Light in the Piazza, so I was amused to see her rock out to “Safe in the City” from Taboo.

Jeanine Tesori accompanied the original Radio (plus one understudy) for “Salty Tears” from Caroline, or Change. Before the trio sang, Ms. Tesori talked about her experience writing the show, and working with George Wolfe (the director). The afternoon’s performance was dedicated to the late Alice Playten, who was part of the show’s original cast. Andrea Frierson was on hand to sing her beautiful solo “The Human Heart” from Once on This Island.

Alexander Gemignani revisited “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables, while in a last minute addition, Jesus Garcia and Ben Davis revisited the duet “O Mimì, Tu Più Non Torni” that they sang in Baz Luhrmann’s La Boheme (How last minute? They only rehearsed twenty minutes before the audience was let in; they were unplugged and in glorious voice). Yvonne Constant, decked out as what can best be described as France’s answer to Carol Channing, revisited her number “One of Those Songs” from La Plume de Ma Tante, the obscure ’50s French import that took Broadway by storm for over two years. Ms. Constant first sang the French lyrics, then the more familiar English lyrics with which Jimmy Durante had a huge pop hit. Marianne Tatum, with whom Sarah and I had the loveliest conversation at the Flea Market, treated us to her glorious soprano with “Love Makes Such Fools of Us All” from Barnum and “L’Amour Toujours-L’Amour” from The Three Musketeers, offering us a hilarious story of Barnum star Glenn Close’s quest for motivation.

The longest set of the afternoon came from Marilyn Michaels, who starred in the first national tour of Funny Girl and also appeared on Broadway in the revue Catskills on Broadway. She started her set with Funny Girl’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” combining the act one finale with its act two finale reprise. Then we went off the rails a bit with a series of impressions set to “Manhattan.” It was a simultaneously bizarre, funny and fascinating. For her third act, she reprised a bit from Catskills in which she revisited her one person version of The Wizard of Oz, which brought down the house.

The biggest surprise of the afternoon was an appearance by two-time Tony winner Tammy Grimes. Ms. Grimes has been recuperating from surgery and needed the assistance of a walker. (She quipped, “The only new part I’ve been offered recently is a new knee.”) She sang three songs from The Unsinkable Molly Brown, including “My Own Brass Bed,” “I’ll Never Say Know” and “I Ain’t Down Yet.” Her performance was perfection and that one of a kind voice is remarkably unchanged. She dedicated “I’ll Never Say No” to her co-star Harve Presnell, who sang the song in the show, who died two years ago. She said she had always hoped to see him one more time, before offering a beautiful rendition of the song in his memory – and in his key, she boasted.

The concert was directed by Scott Coulter, with musical direction by John Fischer. Scott Siegel, who created the event, sat onstage at a podium and served as the afternoon’s host. I look forward to going back next year and the year after that. And I hope Tammy Grimes is on hand to sing High Spirits’ “Home Sweet Heaven.”