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Neil Berg was a great narrator weaving stories about artists, musicals, and the history of the Broadway Musical throughout his 101 Years of Broadway last night at The Music Center at Strathmore. Berg has produced over 1,000 Broadway concert shows worldwide with his company Leftfield Productions. He has arranged, composed, and written lyrics for several musicals on and off Broadway. Neil is also a skilled and energetic piano player as well. He had his moment to really shine when he performed his original composition "The Stream" during the first set. It was just Berg at a piano - dedicating the number to his Dad who had recently passed away.
The set for Neil Berg's 101 Years of Broadway was a blue screen used as a backdrop and the musicians' instruments. The band was on the stage and performed very well. Drummer Roger Cohen, who has worked with Berg before, showed his impressive drum skills, and and was joined onstage with his wife jazz singer Carter Calvert. Booker King held down flawless rhythms on the bass. King has worked with the likes of Santana, Paul Simon, Corey Glover, and more. Keyboardist Eugene Gwozdz's expertise is show tunes having been the Musical Director for several Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, including Baby!, Barsoom!, and Thrill Me. However, as musically talented as the band was, they never stole the spotlight from the Broadway stars (vocalists) of the show: Carter Calvert, Ron Bohmer, Robert DuSold, and Craig Schulman. Sandra Joseph was listed to appear but was replaced by Natalie Toro. The change in stars changed up the set list a bit.
The show began with the cast offstage singing "Give My Regards to Broadway" from Little Johnny Jones, and was followed by a snazzy rendition of "All That Jazz" from Chicago. Carter was joined by Ron Bohmer and Robert DuSold partway through the song. Calvert is an incredible singer and is best known for her role in It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues. She is also an award-winning jazz vocalist. Craig Schulman, who played the role of Jean Valjean hundreds of times, performed "This is the Moment" from Jekyll & Hyde, a show he appeared in.
Natalie Toro performed "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from Evita. Toro had wowed audiences when she played the role of Eva Peron in the 20th Anniversary Tour of Evita. Robert DuSold followed with "All I Care About" from Chicago, which featured some playful leg-kicks off the piano bench from Neil Berg. Ron Bohmer, turned in a memorable performance of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" from Jersey Boys. The charismatic Bohmer actually jumped off the stage and serenaded a swooning audience member named Cathy while performing the song.
Calvert, Toro, Bohmer, and Schulman all returned to the stage to perform "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago. Schulman stayed on the stage and was joined by DuSold for the title song from Man of La Mancha.
Carter Calvert performed a moving rendition of "The Winner Takes it All" from Mamma Mia! The song was another change from the previously published set list. "Ya Got Trouble" from The Music Man. Ron Bohmer took the lead on the song but was joined by Calvert, Schulman and DuSold later on. Robert DuSold stayed on stage to perform "Marta" from Kiss of the Spider Woman. Neil followed with an instrumental interlude giving the singers a well-deserved vocal rest. The first set ended with a high-flying performance of "Defying Gravity" from Wicked featuring Calvert and Toro.
The second set opened with Calvert Carter singing "Crazy" from Always, Patsy Cline. Carter had recently finished a tour of the show. Craig Schulman performed a tremendously entertaining version of "If I Were A Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof, and was followed bu an entertaining rendition of Alan Menken's "Pink Fish" by Ron Boehmer.
Two 'tributes' followed. The first was a Les Miserables tribute. Natalie Toro, who had performed the musical on Broadway in 1987, performed "On My Own." The tribute continued with powerful and beautifully sung performance by Robert DuSold of Javert's "Stars." And of course, as he did several thousand times on Broadway and on the road, Craig Schulman performed "Bring Him Home."
A tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein followed with two songs from South Pacific. Robert DuSold belted "This Nearly Was Mine" and was joined by the 'guys' on "There is Nothing Like A Dame." The whole cast joined in to wrap up the tribute with the theme song from Oklahoma!
Calvert Carter performed "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl, Natalie Toro revisited Cats purred her way through "Memory," and Ron Bohmer ended the concert with the theme song of The Phantom of the Opera and sweetly sang "Music of the Night." After a rousing ovation, the cast and band agreed to perform one more song - "Seasons of Love" from RENT.
For two hours the audience was treated to Broadway classics sung by some of Broadway's Best and accompanied by a group of excellent musicians assembled by Neil Berg. And add in the incredible acoustics of The Music Center at Stratmore and what we had was Broadway Musical Heaven!
Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Neil Berg's 101 Years of Broadway played for one-night only on March 24th, 2013 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For future Strathmore events go to their website, or call the box office at (301) 581-5100.
ABOUT AUTHOR MIKE SPAIN
Mike Spain writes for the Examiner covering Blues Music around Washington, D.C. He also writes for the Yahoo! Contributor Network, where his writing has been published on Associated Content, Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com. Mike lives in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia where he enjoys spending time with his family, listening to live music, skiing and fishing. He is thrilled to write for DCMetroTheaterArts.