Press and Media

March 25, 2012

Lubbock Online

By William Kerns


The professional vocal lineup put together by producer Neil Berg for his seventh-annual production of "100 Years of Broadway" was guaranteed, must-see theater at City Bank Auditorium, 2720 Drive of Champions.

Still, there was one, and only one, questionable moment Friday.

Chuck Wagner made his debut singing "This is the Moment" from Broadway musical "Jekyll and Hyde". He sang the song beautifully, but appeared to be holding something back, making one wonder if he might be saving his voice for later numbers.

Two hours later, it had become obvious that "This Is the Moment" had marked Wagner's own Jekyll and Hyde moment. He never faltered afterward.

Indeed, Berg's "100 Years of Broadway" is a gorgeous, guided tour of the American art form that is musical theater, a production both hypnotic and historical.

He has signed five incredible talents � Carter Calvert, Sandra Joseph, Ivan Rutherford, Wagner and Danny Zolli � and all impressed both as soloists and musical actors playing off one another during certain numbers.

Yes, all.

It is easy to understand why this is one of the most popular national touring acts, and yet incredibly difficult to paint a picture that captures this production. Calling it a musical revue does it a disservice.

A revue of hit Broadway's tunes is something almost any theater company might try as a fundraiser.

What Berg's cast does is re-create original scenes and emotional highs, not to mention jaw-dropping thrills courtesy of these magnificent vocals ... yes, even without beautiful sets.

Songs carry the show, but making "100 Years of Broadway" even more special were personal anecdotes willingly offered by Berg and several performers.

They shared memories of their early careers and their children.

Local theater audiences have been privileged to see Rutherford portray Valjean in extended runs of "Les Miserables" twice in Lubbock, but not until Friday did we learn that he once sang "Bring Him Home" as a bedtime lullaby for his son.

Wagner kept a promise to his daughter by re-enacting the Beast's growl before finding every ounce of emotion in "If I Can't Love Her," the Act One closer for "Beauty and the Beast."

Berg inspired interaction with his theater history lessons, but those attending "100 Years of Broadway" were likely to walk in aware of some of his quiz answers. Regardless, he also reminded the audience of juke box musicals and those years when rock 'n' roll introduced Broadway to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

Zolli appeared at the top rung of stardom's ladder both times, finding Franki Valli's falsetto in "Sherri" and ending the show's first act with a rendition of "Gethsemene," from "Jesus Christ Superstar," so stunning, so moving and so rockin' that I could not care less if it was just intermission.

I had to stand and applaud anyway.

"Chicago" was represented when Calvert delivered a hot and sexy "All That Jazz;" she and Joseph obviously had a great time on stage later with the jailhouse alibi "He Had It Coming," from the same show.

Joseph reportedly is writing a memoir called "Phantom Girl." But Berg made certain patrons had numerous opportunities to hear her sing the role of Christine Daae from "The Phantom of the Opera."

For those precious moments when her soaring soprano expressed the show's familiar melodies, it is doubtful anyone even considered a missing orchestra or chandelier.

Berg reported he had watched part of the Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma baseball game earlier at nearby Dan Law Field before introducing his cast singing "Oklahoma".

Friday found an emphasis placed on more recent decades of Broadway hits, in the process perhaps appealing to younger demographics. He would reach into a deep grab bag of songs to find substitutes for originally programmed tunes from "South Pacific," "Guys and Dolls," "Kiss Me Kate" and "Annie Get Your Gun."

That said, Rutherford impressed time and again, never better than when re-enacting a scene from "Miss Saigon." His character of Chris would share the city�s sights, sounds and smells while watching Kim sleep and asking in song, "Why, God, Why?"

A piano instrumental called "The Stream," penned by Berg for his grandmother but used in the play "Grumpy Old Men," revealed much... especially after Berg mentioned his father liked every type of music except Broadway show tunes.

Everyone on stage needed support, or a friend, to see their dreams come true, which may be why Zolli touched so many hearts with an unexpected, yet gorgeous, delivery of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters."

Berg's "100 Years of Broadway" emerged enlightening, entertaining and educational. And it somehow proved able to transport all of us inside New York theaters time and again.