Porchlight’s streaming program BROADWAY BY THE DECADE provides some much needed musical theater cheer in this unprecedented and challenging year for Chicago theater. This streaming offering is an enjoyable virtual take on the Porchlight Revisits series, in which the company mounts limited engagements of rarely produced musicals—complete with a pre-show briefing from Artistic Director Michael Weber. Weber now takes on the role as musical theater historian and revue emcee as he traces the history of the American musical from the late 1800s to the present—all in the span of 45 minutes. BROADWAY BY THE DECADE provides viewers with an insightful overview of American musical theater, without bogging down the program with details.
Of course, BROADWAY BY THE DECADE makes for truly delightful viewing because some of Chicago’s most beloved musical theater actors perform iconic numbers from the American musical theater songbook. Weber’s historical overview serves as the connective tissue weaving together the musical numbers performed in the revue. The performers (who I can only assume quarantined beforehand) recorded their numbers live in an intimate studio space and a few other venues. This is quite a different experience from viewing a recording of a fully staged live production, but that’s part of what makes it such a treat. Porchlight has managed to capture its essence in this program. Most of the numbers are performed cabaret-style, and the actors deliver big on each and every number.
Michelle Lauto and James Earl Jones II seem to have a ball performing “Anything You Can Do” from Irving Berlin’s ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. Perhaps one of the most classic songs in the musical theater songbook, Lauto and Jones give the song’s eternal battle of one-up-manship new life. Lauto does similarly well with big number “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from FUNNY GIRL, which showcases her belting abilities.
BROADWAY BY THE DECADE includes an interesting and carefully curated mix of famous musical theater numbers and some lesser known songs—the latter of which still aptly demonstrate the evolution of the art form. Darilyn Burtley kicks off the musical numbers with a stripped down rendering of the iconic “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern’s landmark 1927 piece SHOW BOAT. The musical arrangement captures the essence of the number, while also enabling Burtley to put a more contemporary spin on the song and demonstrate her considerable vocal talent. Adding to the cabaret-style staging, Burtley also performs the number with cocktail in hand.
I’d be remiss not to mention Lucy Godinez’s remarkable rendition of “She Used to Be Mine” from WAITRESS, representing modern-day musicals. Godinez shows off her immense vocal power and control, while also giving a performance that’s raw and real. It’s a performance that really speaks to why Porchlight’s BROADWAY BY THE DECADE is such a welcome offering at this time: It reminds us of the power of musical theater, while also leaving space for us to mourn its temporary absence on Chicago stages—and a reminder of what will still be there for us when theater returns.
Blu, Donterrio Johnson, Neala Barron, and music director Michael McBride round out the talented ensemble featured in the program. From classic hits like “Guys and Dolls” to more contemporary pieces like “You Don’t Know/I Am the One” from NEXT TO NORMAL, the performers cover a range of musical theater styles and put their vocal talents on display.
For those who miss live musical theater as much as this critic—and who are interested in learning more about the history of the art form while enjoying some spectacular performances of iconic songs—Porchlight’s BROADWAY BY THE DECADE is more than worth viewing.
Porchlight Music Theatre’s BROADWAY BY THE DECADE is available for streaming through October 25, 2020. Tickets are $15-$50. Visit PorchlightMusicTheatre.org to purchase tickets.
Photos courtesy of Porchlight Musical Theatre
Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com