Monday, December 8, 2008

The 1959 Broadway Songbook

Oh, I want to go back in time, to be a theatre critic in the Golden Age of Broadway. What a year, and what a show is “The 1959 Broadway Songbook.” To paraphrase one of the songs from this revue, I could have listened all night, and still have begged for more.

In just over an hour, cabaret and recording artist Jeff Harnar (in photo), along with singers Klea Blackhurst and Anna Bergman and David Gaines on piano and back-up vocals bring to life a musical season that included the original productions of Gypsy, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Bells Are Ringing, The Music Man, Flower Drum Song and more.

The mood is set even before this fantastic show begins, as projections of Playbills and original cast albums click by, one after the other. I found myself marveling that all those great shows opened in one year. Harnar later informs the audience at 59E59 Theaters that 21 new musicals opened on Broadway in 1959, bringing with them close to 600 songs. The price for an orchestra seat ticket was $9.20. (Now it’s more than $110.)

These four dynamic entertainers don’t perform all 600 songs, but they cover a lot of territory, either singing entire numbers or neatly pairing selections, such as combining parts of “Get Me to the Church on Time” from My Fair Lady with “Don’t Marry Me” from Flower Drum Song and “Tonight” from West Side Story with “Goodnight My Someone” from The Music Man. The latter is a cleaver device that must have taken much time to put together, but judging from the impassioned rendering it was a labor of love.

The theatre has been transformed into a club setting, with tiny cabaret tables crunched together to form an intimate setting. While this brought the audience together physically, the performers brought us together with their singing and with Harnar’s historical accounts and backstage stories. They cemented the bond even more at the end with a sing-along of “Just in Time” from Bells Are Ringing. The words were projected, but I don’t think any of us needed them. What an absolutely wonderful way to spend an afternoon or evening.

"The 1959 Broadway Songbook" is directed by Sara Louise Lazarus, with musical supervision and arrangements by Alex Rybeck. It plays a limited engagement, through Dec. 12, at 59E59 Theaters, between Madison and Park Avenues. Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to For more information, visit  

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