Amazing Journey

Broadway Unplugged
Town Hall

New York
Monday, September 27, 2004 8pm

Michael joined cast members from other shows in a special benefit performance. He performed "Finishing the Hat" with only piano.


B'way forsakes mikes,but generates electricity, Daily News

Broadway Unplugged: Freeing Broadway Melody of Some Excess Baggage, American Theatre World

B'way forsakes mikes,but generates electricity
Daily News

September 28, 2004
By Howard Kissel

Euan Morton sings 'Why God, Why?' from 'Miss Saigon.'
When you hear an evening of singers performing Broadway songs without amplification, your only response is, "Why can't they do this all the time?"

That was the inevitable question at the end of "Broadway Unplugged" at Town Hall Monday. Broadway veterans sang everything from "The Vagabond King" to "Ragtime" without an electronic assist.

Admittedly, it is easier to sing mikeless if you have only a few instruments behind you, but classic Broadway orchestrations were carefully calibrated to allow the voice to soar over whatever was going on in the pit.

The serpent entered Eden, producer/narrator Scott Siegel noted, with stage mikes in 1940. But performers resisted temptation until 1964, when Carol Channing wore a body mike in "Hello, Dolly!"

Many of the singers Monday demonstrated their ability to belt. What was most impressive, though, was what the voice can do when it's singing quietly, as Christine Andreas did in her devastating version of "My Ship" from Kurt Weill's "Lady in the Dark."

Some of the singers uncovered comic gems, notably George Dvorsky doing a delicious "Proud Lady" from Stephen Schwartz's "The Baker's Wife" and Marc Kudisch, with the hilarious "My Fortune Is My Face" from the Styne-Comden-Green "Fade Out-Fade In."

Other highlights included last-minute replacements Norm Lewis doing "Make Them Hear You" from "Ragtime" and Barbara Walsh singing "Holding to the Ground" from "Falsettos."

Michael Cerveris sang "Finishing the Hat" from "Sunday in the Park With George" with great power. Cady Huffman was sensational in "Anything Goes" in an incredibly sexy black gown.

Some of the voices weren't right for the material. Some of the recent material seemed of limited interest. But all of pianist Ross Patterson's arrangements were elegantly supportive of both the songs and the singers.

We know we can't get back to Eden. But let's hope there will be more evenings like this as a reminder of what we've lost.

Broadway Unplugged: Freeing Broadway Melody of Some Excess Baggage
American Theatre World
September 29, 2004
By Andy Propst

Monday night I ran into about 20 old friends on 43rd Street. Some I’d not seen in ages, others were ones that I’d encountered much more recently. Interestingly all of them had seemed to have lost 20 pounds. Some of them had a new buoyancy. Others demonstrated a wit and candor that I’d never previously encountered. It was a true delight to find them all in such good shape and I came home feeling rejuvenated about the world in general.

For those readers wondering, the weight-loss plan that these friends have been on is neither the Atkins Diet or South Beach. This slimming process came courtesy of producer Scott Siegel as he lifted the weight of microphones, amplifiers and speakers off of some two dozen Broadway classics – from The Vagabond King to Dreamgirls – in Broadway Unplugged. Also freed from the cords and mixing board were some of Broadway’s finest performers and the result was a truly unforgettable evening.

Some of the performers chose to take the opportunity to show off their vocal dexterity tackling numbers associated with performers from a pre-amplification age. Thus, the evening opened with Stephanie J. Block (fresh from The Boy from Oz) proving that she herself was every inch the singing talent that she had played in that show (Liza Minnelli). Block gave a dazzling performance of "Don’t Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl.

Only the most brave would attempt to rival a woman whom a young Mel Brooks thought was too loud – Ethel Merman. In "Unplugged", Alix Korey did just this late in the evening when she tackled "Everything’s Coming Up Roses" with unamplified vocal aplomb.

Peppered throughout the evening were numbers that seemed to be newly minted when heard for the first time in a concert setting without amplification. Most notably "Low Down Blues" which Chuck Cooper performed with stylish jazz riffs, but more importantly immense thought, allowing the throughline of Sissle and Blake’s blues ode to a love affair gone sour to shine through. Debbie Gravitte performed a similar feat with her volcanic "If He Walked Into My Life Today" from Mame, allowing the song’s emotional core to shine through (one hopes that the producers of the forthcoming revival might have been in the audience for this one.)

Less familiar tunes seemed to be new gems in this less heavy sounding environment. Alice Ripley’s soaring rendition of "Serenity" from The Triumph of Love might have made those who didn’t know the score wonder why the show ran for such a short time on Broadway. A.J. Irvin’s inspiring delivery of the title song from Lost in the Stars may have encouraged some to replay their recording of this Kurt Weill rarity.

Acting as host for the evening, Siegel peppered "Unplugged" with anecdotes about amplification on the Great White Way and quotes from artists about its use. The evening’s lack of electronic enhancement made it evident what David Mamet meant when he said that such devices served as sheet of glass between audience and performer. When Ann Harada appeared on the stage to deliver a galvanizing "There Won’t Be Trumpets" from Anyone Can Whistle, the audience greeted her with applause that was clearly a recognition of her work without puppets in Avenue Q. Similarly, the second bow demanded from Barbara Walsh for her powerful rendition of "Holding to the Ground" from Falsettos, had as much to do with appreciating her delivery as with a recognition that she had come to do it with only three and a half hours of rehearsal (subbing for an ill Julia Mirney). One wonders if Michael Cerveris felt the audience’s sympathy as he came on stage on crutches (an accident during the day’s filming) to deliver a gently intelligent and poignant rendition of "Finishing the Hat" from Sunday in the Park with George, giving audiences a taste of what Chicago audiences got to witness during his recent appearance in concert there earlier this month.

Ross Patterson’s five-piece Little Big Band provided sympathetic accompaniment to the performers throughout the evening. His arrangements slimmed down so as to not overwhelm certain performers (Cady Huffman during her "Anything Goes") and were beefed up for others. Here one can point to Mark Kudisch’s excellent and varied delivery of two numbers – the hilariously campy "My Fortune is My Face" from Fade Out-Fade In and "Song of the Vagabonds" from The Vagabond King, which he delivered with wonderful bombast. Patterson’s group also knocked themselves out alongside Mary Testa as she delivered a blowout performance of "Hard Hearted Hannah".

The evening closed with the performers singing "You’ll Never Walk Alone", where the intricacies of the arrangements chord structures dazzled as unamplified voice met unamplified voice. The song seemed to signal that all lovers of musical theater who pine for this purity would not be alone as long as Siegel is around. The question that burns is what will he place on his most welcome diet plan next?




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