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Heart Songs

Diva power fuels a concert of memorable gems from (mostly) forgotten shows; with Streets of New York, the Irish Rep treads where no one really needed to tread.

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Song in Her Heart: Karen Ziemba and, clockwise from bottom left, David Eggers, Ian Knauer, and Gregg Goodbrod, in Broadway Bash!  

The Encores! folks put on Broadway Bash! for two tantalizing performances. It was a smorgasbord of appetizers: deserving songs from musicals of all periods susceptible of revival via scarcely more than a Heimlich maneuver. Some forgotten, some not, some better than others, all proved welcome in the expert renditions accorded here. Kathleen Marshall's mini-choreography, Rob Fisher and his maxi-Coffee Club Orchestra, plus rousing performances proved quite enough to efface for two winged hours any worries about terrorism or the state of our theater.

Every cast member (except one, whom I leave unnamed) had his or her unique way with a song: What joy were chirpy and sassy Kristin Chenoweth, who need only let her somewhat babyish speaking voice catch up with her full-fledged singing one and her heart-stealing presence; subtly understated but, when required, electrifying Donna Murphy, who will transmute a merely pleasant song into a showstopper; beautiful Vanessa L. Williams, who sings as sexily as she moves and made "Lazy Afternoon" a renewed reason for reviving The Golden Apple, from which it stems. Also, charismatic Randy Graff, who can get as much out of one number as someone else from an entire recital; Karen Ziemba, who could teach champagne how to effervesce; and Alix Korey and Melissa Errico, coruscant in comic offerings.

The men were right up there with them: dashing Howard McGillin, protean Jason Danieley, roguish Gary Beach, full-throated Jubilant Sykes, and impish Christopher Fitzgerald were all spic-and-span, the chorus supplying stout and stylish backup. Call it a concert, call it a bash, it was nothing to be the least bashful about.

Charlotte Moore and her associate, Ciarán O'Reilly, have come up with worthy offerings at their Irish Repertory Theatre, but with her musical adaptation of Dion Boucicault's nineteenth-century melodrama The Streets of New York, they come a whopping cropper. For starters, there already exists a very pleasant 1963 musicalization by Barry Alan Grael and Richard B. Chodosh. Furthermore, the IRT's tiny, L-shaped auditorium and stage are inhospitable to musicals. Still, irksome necessity could have been mother to invention if there weren't so much low camp and Moore were more than a Sunday composer-lyricist.

The opening choral number held out hints of Sweeney Todd, but the rest was Victorian music hall-cum-Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche from an accidental tourist in the realm of songwriting. The lyrics tended to stuff like "I thought of you today / And let me say / If I may" and "See how my heart is yearning / See how my soul is burning," whose grinding out was reciprocated by the hearers' teeth. The melodies are recommended to street organ-grinders, if any still exist.

The plot revolves around the greedy banker Bloodgood, who, in an economic crisis, misappropriates the lifetime savings of Captain Fairweather, causing his apoplexy and premature demise. Bloodgood's sidekick, Badger, escapes with the bank draft to California and returns twenty years later to blackmail his former boss. Fairweather's distraught widow, unemployed son, and lovely daughter, Lucy, reduced to shopgirlhood, are joined in penury by their neighbors, the hapless Puffy family. Lucy's aristocratic suitor, Mark Livingstone, has lost his money in another financial panic and may have to lovelessly marry Bloodgood's scheming daughter, Alida, on whom the fortune-hunting Duke of Calcavella has his rapacious eye. And so on.

Hugh Landwehr's scenery, in straitened circumstances like the dramatis personae, at least manages an endearingly naïve tenement fire; Linda Fisher's costumes face up no less unflinchingly to a spartan budget. The cast prances, postures, and palpitates appositely, fully aware that real acting would be de trop. It is all of a piece, though I hesitate to say of what.

Broadway Bash!
Presented by the Encores! series at City Center.
The Streets of New York
Musical adaptation of the play by Dion Boucicault.


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