Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Broadway Backwards: Oh What A Night!

I wanted to put my thoughts together about last night's Broadway Backwards and Clay Aiken's participation. It's a little hard because they are more feelings than thoughts and also kind of jumbled.

I love the theater. As a child - ever since I was 6 years old, my parents would take me to see a musical. My first Broadway show was Mr. Wonderful with Sammy Davis Jr. I went to Performing Arts HS and lived in Manhattan since I was 14. I used to second-act shows, get student tickets, do standing room. Whatever I could. I think I saw Half a Sixpence with Tommy Steele 9 times and Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd with Anthony Newley at least a half dozen. I know, compared to Claymates and Spamalot - I was a slacker. But still. . . College and beyond - not just musicals. I loved dramas. Half-priced tickets were cheap back in the 60s and 70s. I saw Zero Mostel in Ulysses in Nightown, sitting in the balcony for $17. I remember the first time I ever saw John Malkovich and Joan Allen in Burn This - I was overwhelmed by their brilliance. Went four times and took everyone I could find. The original Equus with Anthony Hopkins and Peter Firth (first time I had ever witnessed Anthony Hopkins) took my breath away. Agnes of God with Elizabeth Allen, Amanda Plummer and Geraldine Page - spellbinding. Long way of saying that I am bewitched by the theater, find Broadway (and Off Broadway and regional and every form of theater) magical.

So I was excited to be going to Broadway Backwards - whether Clay was a part of it or not. I've lost so many dear friends to AIDS and have heard so many stories from my gay and lesbian friends of their journey, I've been supporting organizations like God's Love We Deliver and Broadway Cares for years. So this was a special evening for us to be in the audience.  From the first number with Alan Cummings singing "Don't Tell Mama" from Cabaret - I was so happy to be a part of this incredible event.

Each number was strong and each performer was charismatic and exciting. When Hinton Battle came out to sing Will I ever Tell You? from Music Man . . . oh my goodness I was ecstatic. That man is amazing.

Debra Monk followed him to sing an emotionally captivating On The Street Where You Live and exited to thunderous applause.

At this point, I turned to MrNan and said "I'm nervous for Clay". It's not that I don't think Clay has a gorgeous voice and tons of charisma. It's just that the performers on that stage were so full of confidence and owned the stage. Their voices were incredibly strong. They moved with such assurance. And most of all, their ability to tell a story with their voice and body was intense.

Dan Butler and Kirsten Wyatt (also the hosts) performed I'll Never Be Jealous Again from Pajama Game - a song I used to sing (out of tune always) with my father -- and were sheer joy.

Then Lillias White (from Fela) tore it up with a Ray Charles arrangement of Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific and was followed by Brian Charles Rooney's impassioned version of One Halloween/But Alive from Applause to close the first act with a bravura performance.

By this point I was more than nervous. I was worried. These people were such pros. So much talent on that stage. Everything about this show was first-rate. The orchestra was wonderful. The staging of the numbers were great. The dance ensemble was perfect. It was everything I love about live performance. The audience knew these performers. They had seen them in shows. There was so much respect. Every time they brought a standing microphone out onto the stage - I grabbed MrNan's hand thinking . . . "this is Clay".

The second act started and I fell in love with Bobby Steggert who (along with Robin De Jesus) sang The Trolly Song from Meet Me In St. Louis. I just read he's going to star in the 2012 Broadway show of Disney's Dumbo. This young man is a-mazing.

So next they bring out the standing mic - hand grab - but it's Len Cariou. I have seen that man in countless shows - the first time in Applause with Lauren Bacall and most recently in last season's Damages on tv. He is the epitome of a professional to me. He blew me away with Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered from Pal Joey. What a story teller. Touching, funny, poignent.

The mic stayed there and I almost didn't want it to be Clay because I didn't want him to have to follow the applause Len Cariou got. Someone I was not familiar with at all walked out, Tituss Burgess and he sang a song I was not familiar with called Stars and the Moon from a show I'm not familiar with -- Songs For a New World. He originated the role of Sebastian in Little Mermaid and he's got a high tenor voice. He was mesmerizing. The song started and I wasn't sure where it was going and he had such amazing voice control and then there were punchlines and funny stuff and his timing was brilliant and the end hits you with an emotional pop. Wow.

They clear the mic away for Bebe Neuwirth to kill on All I Care About Is Love from Chicago - and at this point I'm thinking . . . "maybe Clay is sick and he can't perform".

Tony Yazbeck blows the audience away with The Music and the Mirror from Chorus Line and Brooks Ashmanskas and Denis O'Hare are totally adorable doing Marry The Man Today from Guys and Dolls and it's getting late.  But now they bring the mic out again and I grab MrNan's hand.

Previously, for every performer - Dan and Kirsten give a short introduction with what shows they did or are doing on Broadway and what Tonys they have been nominated for or won.  But now they start talking about a young gay woman who committed suicide and the plight of LGBT youth and said the next song is dedicated to her. Then simply, Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Mr. Clay Aiken. And BAM.   He sold it. His voice has such nuance. It's not a straight "Broadway" voice. There's a bit of "pop" to it. But he had power and range and beautiful texture to it. I remember thinking when they announced his name - there was nice applause but not the kind of name recognition and excitement you got when Len Cariou or Bebe Neuwirth were announced. Or Debra Monk or Karen Oliva (from West Side Story). This was a Broadway crowd. They weren't excited that it was Clay. They were waiting.

My fandom has changed over the last year or so. I adore Clay but I don't listen to him as often as I used to. I'm happy when his songs come up on my iPod but I don't usually seek them out. I don't download clack very much. But when I see him live and he delivers like he did last night - I remember how he touches my very soul. He reached that audience. He sang for that young woman and all all the youth who have been bullied or felt alone and wanted to know there was a safe place called Home. He made a believer of those people sitting in the audience and when he was done they showed him their love and appreciation - not just for his talent - but for his story as well. And I felt it all over again.

No video does justice to live performances.  Support the arts.

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Please support  Broadway Cares and thank for them for wonderful work they do.

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Thank you toni7babe for the photo and gingerscarlett for the video.


Jan said...

That performance took my breath away. So touching and thrilling at the same time.

Corabeth said...

I wish I was there with you but with all the hand grabs, I have a feeling my arm would have been black and blue.

Or make that YOUR arm.

He sang that song, he acted that song, he WAS that song.

Anonymous said...

love your detail story about this show... very beautiful.
I am glad that that you feel 'it' all over again :).
Clay needs this feeling back from his fans so much now.

Agree 300% with Corabeth..
"he sang that song, he acted that song, he WAS that song"


Anonymous said...

Nice recap of the show, you made me feel like I was almost there.

jane, Singapore said...

Nanjeanne, "thank you" for sharing such a wonderful experience through this blog ... it really captured the essence & spirit of these acts and together with the audience's charitable participation have indeed help raise awareness of its great cause.

Hugs & Love
jane, Singapore