The Lost Songs of Broadway 1940 – 1950 opens the new season of the Signature Theatre cabaret series. The show, directed by Michael Baron, presents a collection of songs from lesser-known musicals of the era.
The material is all chosen with taste. Certain songs such as “Rub Your Lamp” from Cole Porter’s Let’s Face It and “All I’ve Got to Get Now Is My Man” from his Panama Hattie are certainly interesting discoveries.
Cast members certainly had stellar moments: Eleasha Gamble (who seems unable to put a foot wrong onstage) scored with “Dat’s Love” from Carmen Jones; Will Gartshore provided an energetic “The Leader of a Big Time Band” from Something For the Boys (Porter again!); and Kimberley Sherbach and Jobari Parker-Namdar were charming in “Can’t You Just See Yourself” from High Button Shoes.
The evening presents two pleasant, well-sung forty-minute sets of great material. So why didn’t I have a transcendent cabaret experience?
The songs, although selected with intelligence and taste, seem randomly assigned and ordered. There is no narrative or emotional arc, no major themes developed (say, the lesser-known Porter), no interesting juxtapositions, no medleys.
The patter for the evening presents brief, tongue-in-cheek, two-line synopses of the shows that the songs came from. These do nothing to illuminate the particular songs being sung or give the audience any reason to care about the material being performed.
While the cast are all talented musical theater performers, the songs are presented in a fairly neutral concert tone – not as songs sung by characters with a story to tell and not as songs expressing a burning thought that the singer needs to personally convey. And at no moment does one ever feel that a specific performer is delivering a version of the material that no one else could deliver. (As a matter of fact, it didn’t feel like any of the performers had known any of the material for more than a month — and consequently never provided more than a surface interpretation of the material.)
Similarly, the music direction by Gabriel Mangiante provides straightforward versions of the material, but misses opportunities that the talented cast would seem to provide for distinctive arrangements and fascinating harmonies.
(Pictured — Eleasha Gamble)