The Cream Of The Crop
Neil Berg’s 100 Years Of Broadway
Featured guest vocalists Rita Harvey (“Fiddler On The Roof”), Lawrence Clayton (“The Color Purple“), Jessica Grove (“A Little Night Music”), William Michals (“Beauty And The Beast”) and Danny Zolli (“Jesus Christ, Superstar.”)
Instrumentalists: Brandon Sturiale (Keyboard), Darren Gage (percussion), Irio O’Farrill (guitar) and Neil Berg (piano).
May 13, 2017
Johnson County Community College, Yardley Hall, Overland Park, Kansas
Neil Berg’s name is synonymous with composition for theater and solo instruments. As the narrator for his traveling music production, Berg gives a brief history of the song selection and then the vocalist takes over. They had me at the first song, “Some Enchanted Evening” (“South Pacific”) sung by baritone William Michals. While my guest listened intently to the song, I was listening intently to the voice and “where have I heard him before?” Michals is not only a Broadway star, but has done soap opera--- “All My Children” and the series, “Law and Order.” Question answered.
Each artist, and their latest singing role is listed above. Each artist, also, had sufficient time to do their selection. While the men remained in suits, the ladies evening dress changes were done speedily, Backstage must have been a show in itself.
Rita Harvey, who is Neil Berg’s wife, does “Phantom of the Opera” music with ease. Her “Think of Me” was warm and directed to the audience. Jessica Grove, had songs from the current era, such as “Part Of Your World” (“The Little Mermaid,”) and excelled at the end with “Over The Rainbow," plus stories of working with the late Mickey Rooney. Lawrence Clayton had the audience’s attention immediately, when he strolled onstage as the late Cab Calloway and sang “Minnie The Moocher.” Later, when he sang “Unchained Melody” you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium. Danny Zolli, with a high voice, did well in a tribute to “Jersey Boys” and you would have thought Frankie Valli was onstage, too. His tribute to Sir Elton John and “Benny and the Jets” was a study in breath control.
Not to leave out the instrumentalists, they did their work in the background without intruding on the vocal soloists. This is training. I was seated where I could watch the percussionist, who had just about every array of instrument imaginable, and used them all, too. When one sets the beat, one keeps on going.
As someone in my row stated, “For the price of a ticket, we got the cream of the shows.” And for those who have never heard of music from “South Pacific,” you learned that in America, you could not write about racial prejudice at that time (the late 1940‘s), so the composers (Rodgers and Hammerstein) set the story in the South Pacific, where the theme could be explored.
In taking a head count of attendee’s under the age of 30, there were about 15% present out of an audience of 1200. Berg said this is an average during his touring days, and applauded them for coming to see live musical theater when, on a Saturday evening, they could have been elsewhere. Berg’s insight on the musical stage was informative and not overwhelming. You do find out that this production of “100 Years Of Broadway” is the most popular, and most attended of these productions in the U.S. See the web site listed above for future touring dates.
Copyright Marie Asner 2017