Like any musical theatre geek who gets giddy at the mere mention of obscure showtunes, I must say that I look forward to Signature Theatre’s Lost Songs of Broadway cabaret every year. For several years now, Signature has devoted the last cabaret of its season (excluding the summer cabaret series) to showcasing songs cut from popular musicals of a given decade, songs that well-established composers wrote for shows that were less than box office smashes, as well as songs from very obscure musicals that should have probably never seen the light of day. This year, Signature tackles the 1970s – an era in American theatre history that saw its share of big blockbusters, epic failures, and a mix of innovation and tradition.
Director/conceiver Matthew Gardiner does a respectable job in selecting songs to feature in this event.
Yet, I fully admit that I groaned when I opened the playbill and saw that Stephen Schwartz’s “Meadowlark” (from The Bakers Wife) would be included along with Jerry Herman’s “Wherever He Ain’t” (from Mack and Mabel) since they’ve been featured in more than their share of cabarets as well as on a variety of popular Broadway performers’ solo albums (from Liz Callaway for “Meadowlark” to Christiane Noll for “Wherever He Ain’t”).
The same, of course, could be said for John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “The Money Tree” (from The Act, which was created especially to showcase Liza Minnelli), Stephen Schwartz’s “Solid Silver Platform Shoes” (from The Magic Show, a show that still is among the longest running Broadway shows, but not generally cited among Schwartz’s greatest successes), or the lesser known but no less sung “Sleepy Man” (from Robert Waldman and Alfred Uhry’s Robber Bridegroom). Emily Skinner/Alice Ripley have covered these songs on their very popular albums – either as solos (in the case of “The Money Tree” and “Sleepy Man”) or as a duet (in the case of “Solid Silver Platform Shoes”).
I now admit that Gardiner is probably right to include them since four of five of these songs – though written by composers who’ve churned out many hits – are featured in shows that are not often (if ever) produced today. Including them in such an event is a good way to introduce contemporary audiences to these songs and perhaps encourage them to seek out other songs from these shows or other versions of the ones they’ve heard at Signature.
To balance things out and much to my delight, he also includes rare ‘gems’ such as “Truckload” (the title song from Louis St. Louis and Wes Harris’ probably best forgotten Truckload) and “So Long Dude” (from Galt McDermot and Gerome Ragni’s – of Hair fame – Dude (The Highway Life )). Less lyrically terrible but no less obscure is “In Your Eyes” (from Jerry Livingston, Leonard Adelson, and Mack David’s Molly) among others.
Three dynamic performers – Signature regular Nova Y. Payton, up and coming DC musical performer Austin Colby, and up and coming Broadway belter extraordinaire Chelsea Packard – and accomplished pianist/music director Howard Breitbart breathe new life into these tunes, even the duds. A couple of performance highlights should be noted.
Force of nature Nova Y. Payton is mostly associated with diva-like performances of fierce woman such as Motormouth Mabel in Hairspray and Effie Melody White in Dreamgirls. While this cabaret continues to feature her in songs that mainly require a loud belt, maybe a riff or two, and don’t require a whole lot of diverse vocal stylings and/or subtle lyric interpretation, I do have to say I was impressed with how she tackled Billy Goldenberg and Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s challenging “Fifty Percent” (from Ballroom). Initially, she displays tender, unaffected vocals and seems to connect at some level with the emotion-filled lyrics. This song also allows her to showcase the fierce belt that she’s known for so it is the best of both worlds.
The Lost Songs of Broadway – 1970s
Closes June 1, 2013
4200 Campbell Ave
Shirlington, VA 22206
1 hour with no intermission
Thursday thru Sunday
Details and Tickets
Austin Colby’s well-trained vocals serve “Mama, a Rainbow” (from Larry Grossman and Hal Hackady’s Minnie’s Boys) and “In Your Eyes” (from the aforementioned Molly) particularly well. His less is more approach to singing and beautifully controlled vocal tone are particularly suited to these contemplative numbers, which make them all the more enjoyable.
A variety of ensemble numbers round out the evening. Technically on-point harmonies, visible connections between the performers make “A Whole Lotta Sunlight” (from Judd Woldin and Robert Brittan’s Raisin) a definite highlight and a solid way to end the show before the equally delightful encore (which won’t be spoiled here….see the show).