We finally managed to see Broadway: Three Generations at the Kennedy Center over the weekend. The program put together tab versions of three musicals: Girl Crazy, Bye, Bye Birdie, and Side Show to represent an overview of the American musical theater. In addition to the presence of performers with solid musical theater credits from both Broadway and DC, the show featured Shirley Jones as a narrator.
On the one hand, every single moment of the show was absolutely lovely. The condensing of each piece was handled with grace, and the performances were never less than solid. I found it especially nice, after so much work in cabaret, to see songs in a musical theater setting — where story, costume, and character combine to support the writing. For example, it was fascinating to see that in the script of Girl Crazy, the different verses of But Not For Me are sung by different characters. (And this is the time to mention the terrific solo piano work on the song from friend-to-this-blog Mary Sugar!)
To me, the most thrilling moments came from the dance numbers. There really is something awe-inspiring about seeing a stage full of people move in precision in songs with a driving beat such as I Got Rhythm or I Got a Lot of Living to Do. And it was oddly wonderful to see Brooks Ashmanskas, a guy with a little more heft than the usual dancer, move with such amazing style in Put on a Happy Face.
On the downside, although the performances were solid, there seemed to be a lack of star wattage in the evening. Ashmanskas and Leslie Kritzer both in their leads in Bye, Bye Birdie and supporting roles in Girl Crazy brought energy, verve, and personality to their appearances. But the rest of the performances felt a bit generic (other than recognizing Ned Eisenberg from his frequent appearances on Law and Order). A day later, no one else left much of a residual impression. As such, I applaud the wisdom of trucking in Mrs. Partridge as the narrator. (Now remind me, just what Broadway show was she notable for?)
And what bothered me most (and probably more than it bothered 99.5% of the audience including Ron) is the seeming randomness of the three musicals put together. It feels like there was a dartboard in Michael Kaiser’s office, and that’s how they selected the material. I really felt there was an opportunity missed to explore themes, styles, or to compare and contrast how materials is treated.
The show was mounted partly in celebration of the newly remodeled Eisenhower Theater. With the new wood panelling in the theater, patrons do not have to avoid wearing red in fear of clashing with the walls. However, patrons unwittingly wearing red jackets (especially with a black skirt or slacks) still risk being mistaken for an usher.