‘Broadway Unplugged’ follows MTV’s return to musical basics
Certain technological advances have shaped the evolution of modern theater productions. Unlike the theater of antiquity, shows today are indoor, where electrical illumination, amplification, air conditioning and, more recently, computerization are meant to enhance the production.
These advances are considered indispensable to the contemporary theatergoing experience, at least until last week at Town Hall’s “Broadway Unplugged” when producer Scott Siegel pulled the plug on the amplification systems and created an evening of pure magic in which the unadulterated human voice was heard on Broadway for the first time in more than 50 years.
In his popular “Broadway By the Year” series, Siegel has consistently presented several numbers “off-mic,” and the reception has been so strong that he built an entire evening around the concept. Featuring some of Broadway’s most accomplished singers and astounding newcomers, the evening was consistently riveting and at times moving in ways that seldom happens in the context of big, machine Broadway shows that are today’s norm.
Without amplification, however, the audience really has to actively listen. That engagement gives an emotional richness and a human connection to the music, something often missing from those Broadway shows dominated by body mikes. What you hear in the second balcony today is as clear as what you hear from the fourth row of the orchestra—which partially explains why tickets are so similarly priced for all sections of the houses—but what’s lost is the heart of many songs.
“Broadway Unplugged,” which was presented on September 27, was full of incredible moments. Broadway veterans Christine Andreas, Michael Cerveris, Alice Ripley and the always-superlative Marc Kudisch and Mary Testa demonstrated the kind of flawless technique that was designed to fill houses like Town Hall. And relative newcomers—Ann Harada, Nancy Anderson, George Dvorsky, Euan Morton and many more all showed they have the chops to do this work in a way that is awe-inspiring.
To see all these consummate artists “down in one,” archaic theatrical jargon for standing at the front of the stage, facing out and singing, and to hear and feel the talent in the performances was a rare and incredible gift. Once again, Mr. Siegel has created an evening that could only happen in New York—and a compelling reason to be here.
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