If you’re disappointed in the most recent crop of new Broadway musicals — and who isn’t? — you might want to consider time traveling with the help of the “Broadway by the Year” concert series. Created, written, and hosted by Scott Siegel for The Town Hall, these invaluable concerts each transport present-day audiences back in time with songs from Broadway shows that opened during a particular calendar year, all performed by top talent from the Broadway, concert, and cabaret worlds.
Some of the Very Good Years that have been already been surveyed by the series are (were?) 1921, 1944, 1970, and 1997. Next up, on Monday, February 13 at 8pm, we have The Broadway Musicals of 1946, initial casting for which includes stage and TV star Tom Wopat plus Broadway stalwarts Noah Racey (Curtains) and Kerry O’Malley (currently appearing in the revisal of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever). Racey is also choreographing the show, and Ross Patterson serves as musical director.
Before you rush to ibdb.com to find the Broadway tuners that opened in 1946, let me save you the trouble: The monster-hit of the year was Annie Get Your Gun, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and a book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields. Ethel Merman starred in the show, which ran for 1,147 performances, was adapted as an M-G-M movie musical in 1950, and has been revived twice on Broadway — in 1966 with Merman recreating her legendary performance as Annie Oakley, and in 1999 with Bernadette Peters starring. (During the run of that most recent production, Annie was also played by Susan Lucci, Cheryl Ladd, Reba McIntire, and Crystal Bernard!) While the program for The Broadway Musicals of 1946 isn’t completely set as of yet, you may rest assured that several songs from AGYG will be in the mix.
No other musical that premiered in ’46 approached Annie Get Your Gun in popularity, but one of the year’s most notable flops, St. Louis Woman, yielded three Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer songs that have become standards of the great American songbook: “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home,” and “I Had Myself a True Love.” The central character of the show is a jockey, and if I were a betting man, I’d put quite a bit of money on the proposition that all three of these songs will be performed at The Town Hall sometime during the evening of February 13.
In addition to the known quantities mentioned above, The Broadway Musicals of 1946 promises to sample a true obscurity: Park Avenue, a musical comedy with songs by Arthur Schwartz and Ira Gershwin, and a book by Nunnally Johnson and George S. Kaufman. The show ran for only 72 performances and gave us no standards, but the song list includes such intriguingly titled items as “The Dew Was on the Rose,” “There’s Nothing Like Marriage for People,” and “Don’t Be a Woman If You Can.” (I’m really looking forward to hearing those!)
Every Broadway by the Year concert I’ve attended has been a winner. And The Town Hall, located at 123 West 43rd Street, is one of New York City’s most storied venues; over the decades, it has hosted legendary performers representing every artistic discipline, along with lectures and personal appearances by some of the world’s most famous literary and political figures.
Here’s another bit of excellent news: Ticket prices for The Broadway Musicals of 1946 are $55, $50, and $45, as compared to more than $100 for a full-price, top level Broadway admission (and that’s not to mention “premium” tickets). So I urge you to attend. And if you can’t make it this time, note that upcoming concerts in the series will offer Broadway songs from the year 1950 (including Guys and Dolls, Call Me Madam, and Out of this World), on March 19; the year 1975 (A Chorus Line, The Wiz, Chicago, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Shenandoah), on May 14; and the year 1987 (Les Miserables, Starlight Express, Into the Woods, Stepping Out, Stardust), on June 11. Tickets may be purchased through TicketMaster (800-982-2787; www.ticketmaster.com) or at The Town Hall box office between the hours of noon and 6pm, every day except Sundays (phone: 212-840-2824).