The McCain year ended May 19 in a comfortable way, with another visit by Neil Berg. The composer and informal musical historian led a piano trio which backed five veteran singers performing a sampler of songs from “101 Years of Broadway.”
Pleasant stuff. The singers were talented and energetic. The band made noises like a pit orchestra. And even after an earlier performance or two in K-State’s auditorium, Berg still had lots of interesting songs to put before us, and more than a little commentary.
At the intermission, we were kidding around about what songs we would pick to pack a similar show. Now imagine, the concert had just given us, in order, “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of la Mancha,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady,” “Tomorrow” from “Annie,” “Who Can I Turn to When You Turn Away” from “The Roar of the Greasepaint,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from “Funny Girl,” and “Old Man River” from “Showboat.”
What could we pick that would be like those numbers? Immediately one of us said “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” from “Guys and Dolls.” It’s the only song I’ve ever known to literally stop a show in a professional performance. If they hadn’t immediately repeated a verse and a chorus of it in a 1982 National Theater production, the audience might have rioted.
So you know what? Berg’s company did “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” in the second set. It was sung by the likable and energetic Danny Zolli. Sure thing, right?
Maybe because it came right after the title song from “Cabaret,” “If Ever I Would Leave You” from “Camelot” and “Never, Neverland” from “Peter Pan,” the performers here decided to play our pick as a novelty number. They essentially tossed it off.
Oh, well. The best fun of the show was about over anyway. Oh, we did get a pretty good “Oklahoma!” after Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Hello Young Lovers” (from “The King and I,” a show series subscribers saw just a couple of months back). But after that we went to “contemporary” material.
The Royal Shakespeare Company started the long-running production of “Les Miserables” in 1985 — 34 years ago. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” is only a year younger. Ticket-holders could be happy the company didn’t include anything from the “McMusical” period, still running, where animated film stories provide the basis of not-usually-first-rate shows.
Even the songs Berg picked from “Evita” (1978) and the last two mentioned musicals were not much competition for “Some Enchanted Evening.” Or “Sherri Baby” from the juke box musical “Jersey Boys” that Zolli gave a terrific reading of.
Sure, “Over the Rainbow” seems to us to be the most overworked tune available. But outsiders visiting us think they’re pointing out something they share with us when they choose to do it. Its like when they point out that Manhattan, Kansas, has the same name as Manhattan, New York. The song is OK, if you don’t hear it six times a month.
Then there was the odd business at the end when Berg introduced their encore number, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” He told us this was a good song for when society seems beset by some problem. Oh, not thinking of anything specific. Just, you know, here it is.
I wondered if a soccer stadium had collapsed again in Sheffield and I hadn’t heard about it. Am I going to be hearing Gerry Marsden hack away at the song the way I used to?
These minor puzzlers aside, Berg’s show in McCain was a decent rounding off of what has been a generally interesting series. Sure we heard a preponderance of ballads, and the rhythm lines never got stretched out long enough between passages of musical accessorizing for anything to find a groove.
But that’s the way Broadway music is. And certainly Berg and his fine front line singers gave us genuine-feeling representations of the best sorts of conventional stage interpretations of some rightly famous show tunes.