Press and Media

April 18, 2008

Tennessee Williams Theatre's "Encore" Series ended Friday night on a high note. A very high note, literally, as Broadway star Tamra Hayden's gorgeous soprano knocked out the ending to "Phantom of the Opera", the final number of the evening. In a soaring duet with tenor Rob Evan, Hayden recreated her lead role as Christine in "Phantom". Hayden and Evan were two of the high-powered stars appearing in "Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway", the highlight of an outstanding Encore season.

Neil Berg, a composer and entertainment producer, is a personable bundle of nervous energy, piano virtuosity and showbiz dish. His love for his work - profusely professed - was obvious as he offered anecdotal intros to the performers and the numbers they were to perform. Berg is the composer/lyricist of "The Prince and the Pauper" which ran Off-Broadway for two years.

Clearly, Berg is not a musical theatre dilettante and he uses his Broadway insider status to put together some of the top singers and musicians in the business. Ex-college football player Rob Evan's burly appearance is in stark contradiction to his bright tenor instrument. Evan showcased his sweet tenor in the iconic "This is the Moment" from his starring role in "Jekyll and Hyde" and the powerful anti-war anthem "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miz" in which he also starred.

In a playful cover of "Anything You Can Do", Evan contrasted his upper register to Marc Kudisch's sonorous base. Kudisch, who has appeared in too many Broadway shows to list, was featured in "Man of La Mancha", an unplugged cover of "Impossible Dream" and "Some Enchanted Evening". The tunes were ideal vehicles for his booming bass. Guitar in hand, he also revived his role in "Bye Bye Birdie".

Ms. Hayden, in addition to "Phantom", appeared On Broadway in "Les Miserables" and "Cabaret". "My Fair Lady" will always be closely identified with Julie Andrews but Hayden was able to deliver "I Could Have Danced All Night" as her own.

"Smokey Joe's Cafe", "Always, Patsy Cline" and "Cats" are among Carter Calvert's stage credits. Ms. Calvert opened the show with the title song from "All That Jazz". Her moving renditions of "Crazy" and, another title song, "Cabaret" as well as "Don't Rain on My Parade" were well-received.

Charismatic Danny Zolli, the final cast member, has made a substantial career from his roles in "Jesus Christ Superstar". In addition to "Superstar", Zolli has appeared on concert stages around the world. During the TWT performance, Zolli matched Frankie Valli note for falsetto note as he squealed his way through a rollicking version of Valli's hit "Sherry". Later he soloed in Billy Joel's "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant".

The ensemble numbers were notable for tight harmonies and shimmering sound. Medleys from "Grease" and Rogers and Hammerstein ("South Pacific" & "Oklahoma") allowed the cast to play off one another while they blended their superb voices. And the cast of "Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway" goes one better than the denizens of Lake Wobegon. Not only are Berg's women strong (singers), they are quite lovely to behold. And, yes, like the citizens of Lake Wobegon, all the men are good looking.

Berg's New York band members also deserve mention. Roger Cohen (drums/percussion), John Lang (bass) and David Weinstein (keyboard/NYFD) are New York professionals who do it all. Neil Berg on piano was a show unto himself. Head swiveling, legs in the air, hands pounding, Berg threw himself enthusiastically into the music.

Frank Wood, you did real good. "Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway" was a brilliant conclusion to TWT's successful Encore season. Best that it concluded the season; it's a damn tough show to follow. Key West culture aficionado Dr. Rob Carlson had the last word: "Broadway – with parking!"