Tennessee Williams Theatre's "Encore" Series
ended Friday night on a high note. A very high note,
literally, as Broadway star Tamra Hayden's gorgeous
soprano knocked out the ending to "Phantom of the
Opera", the final number of the evening. In a soaring
duet with tenor Rob Evan, Hayden recreated her lead
role as Christine in "Phantom". Hayden and Evan
were two of the high-powered stars appearing in
"Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway", the highlight
of an outstanding Encore season.
Neil Berg, a composer and entertainment producer,
is a personable bundle of nervous energy, piano
virtuosity and showbiz dish. His love for his work
- profusely professed - was obvious as he offered
anecdotal intros to the performers and the numbers
they were to perform. Berg is the composer/lyricist
of "The Prince and the Pauper" which ran Off-Broadway
for two years.
Clearly, Berg is not a musical theatre dilettante
and he uses his Broadway insider status to put together
some of the top singers and musicians in the business.
Ex-college football player Rob Evan's burly appearance
is in stark contradiction to his bright tenor instrument.
Evan showcased his sweet tenor in the iconic "This
is the Moment" from his starring role in "Jekyll
and Hyde" and the powerful anti-war anthem "Bring
Him Home" from "Les Miz" in which he also starred.
In a playful cover of "Anything You Can Do",
Evan contrasted his upper register to Marc Kudisch's
sonorous base. Kudisch, who has appeared in too
many Broadway shows to list, was featured in "Man
of La Mancha", an unplugged cover of "Impossible
Dream" and "Some Enchanted Evening". The tunes were
ideal vehicles for his booming bass. Guitar in hand,
he also revived his role in "Bye Bye Birdie".
Ms. Hayden, in addition to "Phantom", appeared
On Broadway in "Les Miserables" and "Cabaret". "My
Fair Lady" will always be closely identified with
Julie Andrews but Hayden was able to deliver "I
Could Have Danced All Night" as her own.
"Smokey Joe's Cafe", "Always, Patsy Cline" and
"Cats" are among Carter Calvert's stage credits.
Ms. Calvert opened the show with the title song
from "All That Jazz". Her moving renditions of "Crazy"
and, another title song, "Cabaret" as well as "Don't
Rain on My Parade" were well-received.
Charismatic Danny Zolli, the final cast member,
has made a substantial career from his roles in
"Jesus Christ Superstar". In addition to "Superstar",
Zolli has appeared on concert stages around the
world. During the TWT performance, Zolli matched
Frankie Valli note for falsetto note as he squealed
his way through a rollicking version of Valli's
hit "Sherry". Later he soloed in Billy Joel's "Scenes
from an Italian Restaurant".
The ensemble numbers were notable for tight harmonies
and shimmering sound. Medleys from "Grease" and
Rogers and Hammerstein ("South Pacific" & "Oklahoma")
allowed the cast to play off one another while they
blended their superb voices. And the cast of "Neil
Berg's 100 Years of Broadway" goes one better than
the denizens of Lake Wobegon. Not only are Berg's
women strong (singers), they are quite lovely to
behold. And, yes, like the citizens of Lake Wobegon,
all the men are good looking.
Berg's New York band members also deserve mention.
Roger Cohen (drums/percussion), John Lang (bass)
and David Weinstein (keyboard/NYFD) are New York
professionals who do it all. Neil Berg on piano
was a show unto himself. Head swiveling, legs in
the air, hands pounding, Berg threw himself enthusiastically
into the music.
Frank Wood, you did real good. "Neil Berg's 100
Years of Broadway" was a brilliant conclusion to
TWT's successful Encore season. Best that it concluded
the season; it's a damn tough show to follow. Key
West culture aficionado Dr. Rob Carlson had the
last word: "Broadway – with parking!"