Sunday, October 24, 2010

Review: Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway

Going in, I had no idea what this show was going to be.  Probably the best way to describe "Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway" is as a Broadway review, with a few personal stories and history lessons thrown in. 

Neil Berg - our host for the evening along with being producer / music director / piano player - turned out to be a lot of fun.  I enjoyed how he drew the audience in with his stories of Broadway-of-old, telling of Rodgers & Hammerstein's first collaboration, and of Lerner and Loewe trying to do what R&H couldn't.  Berg also spiced up the night with his piano, adding interesting flourishes not found in the original arrangements.  Primarily known as a composer, Berg's own piano-only piece from the upcoming Grumpy Old Men was a welcome surprise in a show focusing on singers.  Berg also put together a fantastic back-up band, especially the drummer (Roger Cohen) who I often found myself watching when I should have been paying attention to the singers.

The rest of the night was spent with five Broadway stars trading the spotlight back and forth with varying effectiveness.  Wisconsin-born Robert DuSold was adequate in his first two solos, "Stars" and "The Impossible Dream" - two songs I never realized could sound so similar.  Although later he picked up the energy and flair in "All I Care About Is Love" (which also featured Berg's hilarious one-man seated kick line).  Late-replacement Sandra Joseph may have played Christine in Phantom of the Opera for ten years, but she was having trouble with those songs last night.  Several times her high notes started on one pitch and fell to another.

Two of the other actors had more success.  Ted Levy was incredibly charming as he tap-danced his way through jazzy renditions of "My Favorite Things" and "Almost Like Being In Love".   Levy's tapping can only be compared to greats such as Gregory Hines and Gene Kelly.  Also on her game was Carter Calvert.  She was by far the most versatile actor, being a veteran of shows as varied as Cats and Forbidden Broadway.  Her haunting rendition of "Memory" was a show-stopper, and her slow, slinky "Fever" was probably the best version of that song I've seen.

As good as Calvert was though, Rob Evan was by far the star of the evening.  Evan was in the original cast of Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway, and his performance of "This is the Moment" from that show was utterly fantastic.  Turns out he was just getting warmed up.  You see, Evan was also the youngest-ever to play Jean Valjean in Les Miserables on Broadway, and his performance of "Bring Him Home" from that show brought a tear to my eye, which almost never happens.  His second-act opener, "Something's Coming," had beautiful dynamic changes and small rhythmic nuances that gave me goosebumps, and then he closed the night with two spectacular Phantom songs.  These performances alone were worth the ticket price.

Overall though, the show was uneven.  The few group numbers were mostly bland, although changing "Cell Block Tango" to feature two women, and then adding two men, was a brilliant touch.  Sound problems also put a damper on many numbers, especially the group songs.  In the end, I'm not sure Neil Berg himself had much of an idea what the show was about as a whole, but it certainly had parts that were entertaining.

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