By Elizabeth Maupin
Elizabeth Maupin on Theater
People who put together musical revues tend to go one of two ways: Either they pull together a whole lot of songs that most of the audience has never heard before, or they pull together a whole lot of songs you’ve heard too many times. (Cabaret singers, take note: “Defying Gravity” may have been sung once too often.)
But Wade Hair has found the middle ground with his new revue Best of Broadway: 1995-1999, at Breakthrough Theatre of Winter Park. He’s given you a little of both, and he’s honed in on a period, not so far in the past, when one Broadway show seemed to feed another so that you get a feeling for what the era was like.
If the feeling you get is that the late ‘90s on Broadway were a little on the grave side and a little overwrought, well, maybe that’s right up your alley. And it certainly doesn’t detract too much from the down-home warmth of this little community-theater production, where three-quarters of the cast may be very young but plenty of talent shines through.
Hair, who directed this revue and sings in it, has divided his “best of Broadway” in two – the first half with songs from shows that were revived in the late ‘90s, the second half from shows that originated back then. So the first dozen songs and the shows they come from have little in common, with composers and lyricists as varied as Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Kander and Ebb. Can any two songs be more different than “Mama Look Sharp,” from 1776, and “My New Philosophy,” from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown?
There’s still pleasure to be had, though, in hearing some of those numbers again. Jason Carl Crase delivers a sweet version of “Mama Look Sharp,” and Madison Zavitz (a high-school sophomore who appeared in a recent national tour of Annie) brings some professional pizzazz to the Charlie Brown song, which Kristin Chenoweth originated in the 1999 revival.
Hair himself performs a favorite of mine, “Sorry-Grateful” from Company, and proves to have both a lovely voice and a warm, approachable onstage persona.
Some of the other revival songs don’t fare so well, most often because the performer is too young or too old to carry it. But Crase brings a rakish air to “Two Ladies,” from Cabaret, and Victoria Burns, a longtime professional singer, shows her experience in “Maybe This Time,” from the same show.
When Best of Broadway makes it to the newer shows, it gets both more interesting – some of these songs just aren’t heard very much – and also more uneven. Four songs from Smokey Joe’s Café set a welcome and raucous tone, and the first, the lovely “Neighborhood,” shows off how well this big ensemble can blend. A handful of numbers also display the male voices of the cast to good effect, especially “Into the Fire” from The Scarlet Pimpernel and “Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime (both of them sung beautifully by Jamaal K. Solomon), as well as “Santa Fe,” from Rent, with Hair singing the lead.
But too many stately, dramatic songs drag down the second act (were we all so serious in the late ‘90s?), and so does a medley from Jekyll & Hyde, which will remind detractors like me just how overwrought and poorly written that show was. Better to have added another song or two from the glorious Ragtime: “What a Game!” would have livened up the second act a lot.
Still, a medley from Rent, which closes the show, will erase whatever feelings of gloom that may have been collecting in the back of your head: Jonathan Larson’s songs are so warm and so melodic that, even out of context, they remind you of what Broadway can be.
Crase, again, brings passion to “One Song Glory,” and Jimmy Moore leads a rousing version of “La Vie Bohème.” But it’s “Seasons of Love,” the iconic song from that era of musical theater, that shows this young cast at its best – not as a bunch of smooth, svelte Broadway types but a group of real people, really meaning what they sing. Feeling like that onstage is worth a lot.
‘Best of Broadway: 1995-1999’
- What: Breakthrough Theatre production of Wade Hair musical revue.
- Where: Breakthrough Theatre of Winter Park, 419-A Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park.
- When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 6.
- Running time: Two hours and 10 minutes, including intermission.
- Cost: $18 general, $15 seniors, $12 students.
- Call: 407-920-4034.