If It's Thursday, This Must Be Texas
Broadway Gives Its Regards to Austin
It was a Big Apple thank you in the form of a dozen beautifully belted show tunes.
That's what NY Loves America: The Broadway Tour delivered to a small but appreciative audience in the Capitol Rotunda on the morning of January 24. Cooked up by the League of American Theatres and Producers, the tour was a showbiz way for New York to thank the rest of the country for its support after the September 11 attacks (as well as to nudge folks to help it out a tad more by coming to see a Broadway show). The centerpiece? Five veterans of the Great White Way performing numbers from current shows (Cabaret, Chicago, Rent, The Full Monty, plus the soon-to-open Oklahoma!) in a tight little 35-minute set. The tour was racing through 14 cities in 16 days; by the time it landed in Austin, just six days in, it had already played Miami, Tampa, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Houston.
Although it was touting theatre, the tour wasn't playing any formal performing arts houses, opting instead for public venues such as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the French Quarter's Riverfront Marketplace, and our own Capitol. The original plan to perform on the South Steps was scuttled by the cold snap, so in addition to suffering the indignity of performing at 9:30 in the morning, these Broadway pros were subjected to Rotunda light, probably the worst lighting they could work under outside a grade-school cafetorium.
Prior to the musical revue, an all-star cast of local notables welcomed the tour, with Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman reading a city proclamation identifying January 24 as "New York Loves America Day" in Austin, and Mayor Gus Garcia, Governor Rick Perry, and Golden Throat Larry Gatlin treating the crowd to remarks. (There was also a plug from local tour sponsor KASE, the place in town, as we all know, to tune your dial to hear show tunes.) Then, tour headliner and Lone Star native daughter Sandy Duncan (who confessed she had never been to the Capitol before) made a touching presentation to the state and city of a firefighter's hat autographed by the surviving heroes of Firehouse 54, the theatre district's firehouse, which lost 15 men on 9/11. "New York," she said, "desperately wants to convey to you how much they appreciate your help."
After that, it was on with the show, which was truly an "on-the-fly" operation: four-piece band, no stage, no backstage (when the performers weren't singing, they sat in those ubiquitous chocolate brown metal folding chairs). But what it lacked in production values, the tour more than made up for in talent. Duncan led the cast in a brassy rendition of the Chicago theme "All That Jazz," and instantly all five performers revealed themselves to be powerhouses. Keith Byron Kirk took the Lloyd Webber staple "Music of the Night" and the classic "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" and filled that whole dome with sound. Paige Price showed how good things (like big voices) can come in small packages with her solos "It's a Woman's World" from The Full Monty and "I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No" from Oklahoma! Olivier nominee Ruth Henshall gave the title number from Cabaret a rousing energy, growling out the finale with show-stopping verve. And Tony nominee Michael Mulheren, the tour's resident hulk, pumped up "Mr. Cellophane" from Chicago with a show's worth of comic brio.
Most of the numbers were simply good Broadway razzle dazzle, but when the five singers joined together for "Seasons of Love" from Rent, the context of the performance, the response to September 11, gave a throat-catching new resonance to the song's question of how we measure a year. That followed Duncan's rendition of "Never Never Land" from Peter Pan, during which she knelt on the Rotunda floor and sang, "That's my home, where dreams are born." She was talking about Broadway, still an enchanted place, still a place worth believing in, and hearing that from this small-town East Texas girl who made it all the way to New York and realized her dreams there, hearing her bring that message back to her home state and share it in the wake of all that has happened since the fall, added an unexpected poignance to this informal little road show. It was perhaps the loveliest moment in this lovely gesture from the heart of our national theatre.