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Town Hall Gives Its Regards to "Broadway"

by Wayman Wong

With its 76 trombones, The Music Man is the show to beat the band on Broadway. There's a new musical by the madcap Mel Brooks, and Stephen Sondheim's name is lighting up a marquee down the street. Meantime, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are getting set to make the leap from the page to the stage of the Great White Way.

No, we're not talking about the current season. We're talking about 1957. Yep, that's the year that gave us the original Harold Hill; a short-lived show called Shinbone Alley by Brooks; Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein's soaring score to West Side Story; and a new Mark Twain musical called Livin' the Life, which died after only 25 performances.

Those famous shows and infamous flops will be recalled in story and song at The Broadway Musicals of 1957 on Monday, April 16 at 8 p.m. at Town Hall, 123 W. 43rd St., NYC. The concert will showcase Broadway and cabaret veterans Eric Michael Gillett (Kiss Me Kate, Time and Again), Alix Korey (Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, Suburb) and Adriane Lenox (Dinah Was, Kiss Me Kate). Directed by Gillett, with musical direction by D. Jay Bradley, it'll also feature a special guest appearance by Jay Rogers (Whoop-Dee-Doo, When Pigs Fly).


Scott Siegel is playfully caught lying on the job by his "Broadway Musicals of 1957" cast: Eric Michael Gillett, Adriane Lenox and Alix Korey.
Masterminding it all is Scott Siegel, who is producing, writing and hosting the show. To pull it all off, like Harold Hill, "you gotta know the territory," and the Bronx-born theater, movie and cabaret critic sure does. Along with his equally witty wife, Barbara, he writes for Back Stage, TheaterMania and Cabaret Hotline Online. They're heard on over 100 radio stations via the Siegel Entertainment Syndicate, and they've penned 46 books, including bios of Jack Nicholson and Jim Carrey.

Siegel, who hosts Town Hall's popular "Feature Film Seminar Series," says his concert series was created to appeal to Broadway and bistro audiences and to spotlight stellar singers who perform on the boards and at the boîtes.

"Broadway Musicals" kicked off its two-show season on March 19 with a 1943 concert, starring Jason Graae, Heather MacRae and Sally Mayes. They celebrated the songs of One Touch of Venus, Carmen Jones and Oklahoma! and oh, what a beautiful concert it was. It won rave reviews from Variety and the N.Y. Post. In one touch of genius, Siegel had MacRae fondly recall her father, Gordon MacRae, who starred in the movie of Oklahoma!, and then sing a showstopping version of "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top."

This time around, Siegel says his 1957 concert will include 24-karat classics like "Tonight" from West Side Story, "Til There Was You" from The Music Man and "Push De Button" from Jamaica, as well as lesser-known gems like "Flings" from New Girl in Town, which starred Gwen Verdon, and "When I'm in a Quiet Mood" from Simply Heavenly, a musical by the legendary Langston Hughes.

The season's big hits were The Music Man and West Side Story, but it was Harold Hill's happy band that marched away with a ton of Tonys - eight, to be exact, including Best Musical, Best Actor (Robert Preston) and Featured Actress (Barbara Cook). Amazingly, West Side Story danced away with only two Tonys: one for Jerome Robbins' choreography and the other for Oliver Smith's sets. Larry Kert and Chita Rivera weren't even nominated.

"They're both wonderful shows," says Siegel, "but the wrong one won. Music Man wasn't undeserving, but West Side Story was more exciting and groundbreaking."

If those shows were the tops, 1957 also had its flops. Thanks to help from Michael Lavine and Mitch Douglas, Siegel tracked down some literally unsung songs. The concert will include selections from Copper and Brass, Rumple and Shinbone Alley, a musical adaptation of Don Marquis' "archy and mehitabel" stories. Joe Darion, who co-wrote the latter show, would later achieve his impossible dream by writing the lyrics to Man of La Mancha.

In his research, Siegel says he's found a treasure trove of trivia. He was amazed to learn that Robbins first conceived West Side Story as a Romeo and Juliet with Irish and Jewish lovers, and that the Beatles recorded "Til There Was You."

Having been a critic for the past decade, Siegel admits he saw the pluses and pitfalls of putting on his own show. "When I first came up with the idea, [my wife] Barbara told me I was crazy, but she'd support me in every way, and she has. But let's face it. Even though I hired great performers, I'm hosting and writing it, and there's a big chance for failure. It's one thing to try out an act at the Duplex, but I'm starting out at Town Hall. But my attitude is: everything new all the time. It's very nice to be a critic and I enjoy it, but I want to take a little of what I've learned and what I've seen and apply it. And hopefully entertain others."

Not content to rely on ads or advance pieces in the press, Siegel says he's even taken the direct approach of promoting his show to theatergoers: by personally handing out flyers outside Broadway theaters, leaving no leaflet unturned.

All the hard work is ultimately worth it, he says. "The most pleasure I've gotten is hearing the applause, not even for me. When I was backstage at the 1943 show and Heather got that huge applause [for "Surrey ..."], it just nailed me. It was such a sense of satisfaction. I hired her to do that, and she did it beautifully. When I first saw her do "Surrey ..." in cabaret, she was playing to 80 people. Here, it was 1,000. If this series takes off, I'd love to give other wonderful performers the same chance!"

Tickets to The Broadway Musicals of 1957 are $30 and $35. For tickets, call the Town Hall at (212) 840-2824 or Ticketmaster at (212) 307-4100.


-- Wayman Wong



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