The stately building has been standing at 123 West 43 Street between Avenue of the Americas (6th Avenue) and Seventh Avenues for over 80 years. How many times have you walked passed it and not noticed or how many times have you heard about a concert or program on WQXR being held at Town Hall and not paid attention to it?
The building was originally built by a group of vibrant suffragists (The League for Political Education) whose fight for the 19th Amendment led them to build a meeting space to educate people on the important issues of the day. The space, which became Town Hall was designed by renowned architects, McLean, Mead and White and reflected the democratic principles of the League. Box seats were eliminated and no seat had an obstructed view, giving birth to the phase “Not a Bad Seat in the House”. The 19th Amendment was passed (women’s right to vote), on January 12, 1921. The Town Hall opened its doors and took on a meaning as a symbol of the victory sought by its founders, and also for a new, more optimistic climate.
“NOT A BAD SEAT IN THE HOUSE” takes on a new meaning when you’re sitting in the hall enjoying a program as varied as a tribute to Broadway or a political lecture. You can count on some unusual programming that will entertain you or teach you. I had the pleasure of being at two of the three programs that made up “2008 Summer Broadway Festival.” The festival consisted of three parts, the first the beginning of Broadway “A Night at the Operetta,” which explored the beginning of the Musical theatre. The second was “Broadway’s Rising Stars,” which presented the next generation of performers. The young talent was chosen during auditions at performing arts schools in New York and all over the country this spring. I had to miss this program because of illness. The final performance was “All Singin’ All Dancin’,” which explored what happening now and has happened in the past.
The program was conceived, produced, directed, hosted and written by Scott Siegel. Scott Siegel created the Broadway by the Year series, Broadway Cabaret Festival and the Summer Broadway Festival all for The Town Hall. Scott is a well-known pop culture critic who covers film, theatre and cabaret with his wife, Barbara. Together they write both “The Siegel Column” and The Two of Clubs” column for TakinBroadway.com as well as reviewing for TheatreMania.com. Previously, they wrote for Back Stage, Show Business Weekly, InTheatre Magazine and covered New York theatre/cabaret for the West Coast trade paper, Drama-Logue. The Siegel’s are the authors of 48 books, including the first and second editions of the Encyclopedia of Hollywood (Facts on File). American Film Comedy (McMillan). He is in his 11th year as the host of The Town Hall Feature Film Seminar series. He is also the creator/producer of two critically acclaimed annual events. Broadway Unplugged and the Nightlife Awards at The Town Hall.
The series started with “A Night at the Operetta” because that’s where musical theatre started. Since the series was on a Monday evening Scott Siegel was able to get a lot of great Broadway people to be a part of the cast. Several performers tried to perform the songs unplugged, (no mike) unfortunately young performer these days are not taught to project and in many cases it was difficult to hear. It also surprised me how sloppy some of the women were dressed; again young performers who were born in the blue jean age don’t have a sense of style or tradition. I was thinking how would an Ethel Merman or a Mary Martin appear and they would have hit the back of the house with no problem.
One performer who had no problem with projection was William Michals, who took over the stage as soon as he appeared and sang “The Gypsy Baron Song” from “The Gypsy Baron” written in 1885 by Johann Strauss II, in the first act and in the second act he sang “Thine Alone” from “Eileen” written in 1917 by Victor Herbert and Henry Blossom. Michals is appearing in “South Pacific” and will sing the title role of Emile in August. Christine Andreas and Bill Daugherty did a duet of “When I Grow to Old to Dream” and she followed with a solo of “I’ll Follow My Sweet Heart” from Noel Coward 1934 musical “Conversation Piece” There were outstanding performances by Alex Gemigniani, Jennifer Hope Wills and Bill Daugherty who sang “Indian Summer.” The entire cast ended the evening with Noel Cowards “I’ll See You Again” from his 1929 show “Bittersweet.” It was a wonderful evening leaving me wanting more. Unfortunately, I became ill and could not go to the second concert.
“All Singin’ All Dancin’ the third show was a rip roaring good time. Once again we had people from Broadway Shows on their night off, where we lucky. Liz McCartney’s version of “It’s An Art” was a piece of art and her “Someone Else’s Story” brought the house down. Natasha Williams did the vocal to “Speak Low” while Melinda Sullivan and Kendrick Jones did a tap dance which I thought was good but the tapping interfered with the great singing. Natasha brought the house down along with full company for the finale with her version of “Shakin’ the Blues Away.” She certainly did! I enjoyed hearing again “Real Live Girl” done by the ensemble. The song is from “Little Me” which is the first show Bob Fosse directed. Once again the evening belonged to William Michals who began the evening with “They Call The Wind Mariah” from “Paint Your Wagon” it was sung in the original show by an actor singer named Tony Bavaar, who was born in the apartment I live in. Michals also sang “Where’s The Life that Late I Led” from “Kiss Me Kate” and ended with “Some Enchanted Evening,” which he will be singing on Broadway in August. He sang it unplugged and he could be heard in the last row. I want to thank the many performer who gave up a night off to perform it was a great show and I really wanted more.
What’s coming up at Town Hall you ask, I’m going to tell you. On Friday, Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon, October 17 – 18 and 19, The Town Hall presents the critically acclaimed “4th ANNUAL BROADWAY CABARET FESTIVAL”. A celebration of Broadway stars performing all Broadway music all week-end long. From classic favorites to contemporary Broadway, from the newest stars to our venerated icons, this is the place to be if you’re a Broadway fan.
On Friday evening, October 17 at 8 PM “A Tribute to Lerner & Loewe” will happen. On Saturday evening, October 18, at 8 PM, “COLM WILKINSON: Broadway & Beyond”. Colm Wilkinson is the world’s original John Valjean of “Les Miserables” will return to Broadway making his Town Hall debut. This is the place to be on Saturday, October 18. On Sunday afternoon, October 19 at 3 PM “Broadway Originals” takes the stage and twenty stars will sing songs they originated on Broadway. Lucie Arnaz will do “They’re Playing Our Song” and Stephen Mo Hanan of “Cats” will perform. The great Karen Morrow will do “I Had a Ball” and Pam Myers of “Company” will appear among others.
Tickets are available at the Town hall Box Office, from Ticket master 212- 3074100 or www.ticketmaster.com $150.00 for the three shows or $50.00 for each show.
If you need more information or have a question please write me at this newspaper or e-mail me at RAskRalph@aol.com.