I LOVE Broadway. I was not in love with Neil Berg's tribute to Broadway, "101 Years Of Broadway", presented at The McCallum Theatre for two performances last week. The cast was more than credible with ample credits, each and everyone - Broadway stars Ron Bohman, Sandra Joseph, David Elder, Erin Denman and Ted Lewis Levy - and the Broadway revue highlighting some of the greatest music from some of the greatest shows is a tried and true formula that is generally at least satisfying. But something was missing. Perhaps it was, in fact, Neil Berg who is generally at the helm of this production but was out with pneumonia for this leg of the tour. But 101 YEARS was not special. What seemed to be missing was heart.
I was not being facetious when I say Neil Berg may have been the missing link. His role is to lead us through the history of the Broadway Theatre and introduce to us his illustrious cast of Broadway veterans who are, in many cases, recreating roles they played or originated on Broadway or various national and international tours. This was left to the cast and it came off as a "pat us on the back - aren't we great" session that became more and more off-putting as the evening wore on. Ron Bohmer took on the primary role of "master of ceremonies" for the concert and appeared to be so full of himself and so conceited about his career successes that it made it difficult to enjoy him. He has an undeniable vocal quality, evidenced by his resume, but he came off with such arrogance that his voice didn't really matter. The rest of the cast seemed to follow his lead and the "it's all about us" fest that followed became rather cloying.
As I said before - there is formidable talent in the ensemble. Sandra Joseph's "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" and "I Could Have Dances All Night" were sheer perfection. She has such effortless vocal clarity and control --- such quality! Erin Denman's turns at "All That Jazz" and " Whatever Lola Wants" were not remarkable - she is a much stronger dancer than singer - she was a little pitchy throughout. She was at her best when paired with David Elder in "Two Lost Souls" and "When You're Dancing" when her vocal prowess, or lack thereof, was not centerstage. It is when she is dancing that she shines.
David Elder was the stand-out "star" of the show. He was warm and endearing at every turn and seemed to pay more attention to the "song" rather than the "singer", recreating magical Broadway moments rather than posturing and resting on his resume. His "You'd Be So Easy To Love" was this critic's choice, and he was an outstanding partner to Denman - he easily could have stolen the moment from her in both songs, but was a wonderfully giving partner and they were a dynamic duo because of it.
Ted Lewis Levy was brilliant when he let his tap shoes do the talking. His feet say more than many lyrics ever could. He is a master of his craft and his energy is infectious. He was given a few too many opportunities to banter before his numbers, however, and seemed to ramble with nothing much to really say. His vocals were adequate - his feet were amazing!
Ron Bohmer's "This Is The Moment" seemed full of the same vocal conceit he displayed in audience banter. It was affected and unfeeling, paying no attention to the wonderful lyrics, seemingly having no connection to the song except to show off his range and vocal tricks. "Something's Coming" was no better. Unfeeling. Unemotional. His "Pinkfish" is Act Two was the only moment in the show where he actually seemed connected to the material, other than showing off the voice God gave him, and the audience reaction to the song was markedly warmer and genuine in return. The Act One closer - a tribute to Grease - should be dropped from the show. Ron and Sandra are out of synch with singing the roles of Danny and Sandy - not only in age, but in a totally unmatched vocal style, that it becomes a little silly. Perhaps the least enjoyable part of the evening was the one that should have been the show's shining moment - Sandra and Ron doing two selections from the show that brought them both major acclaim - "Tha Phantom Of The Opera". However, Bohmans set-up of the songs came off with such arrogance - like the audience was about to witness the second coming itself - that all that followed was a let down.