Posted on April 11, 2016 at 8:15 pm
‘Broadway Premieres’ at Symphony Space
by Stephen Holden
The New York Times
Friday April 8, 2016
Is it possible for a musical-theater lover to identify a future pop standard after one listening? Today, not so much. The so-called 11-o’clock-number that brings audiences to cheers still exists, especially in the scores of veteran Broadway composers. But the rules have relaxed, as the typical theater song has become wordier and expanded far beyond the traditional 32-bar form.
You could feel all these changes at “Broadway Premieres” on Thursday for the opening-night concert of Project-B-way/95, a 14-event marathon at Symphony Space that continues through April 20. Its centerpiece, Wall to Wall Stephen Schwartz, is an eight-hour tribute to the composer of “Wicked,” the juggernaut whose popularity with teenage girls has changed the demographics of the Broadway audience more than any other show in recent memory.
The well-known composers and lyricists represented included Steven Lutvak (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”), Alan Menken and Mr. Schwartz (the Disney movie “Enchanted”), Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”), Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (“Ragtime”) and Jason Robert Brown (“The Bridges of Madison County”).
All the songs performed were introduced as premieres. Quite a few were “trunk songs” cut from shows for one reason or another. Others came from works in progress. To the event producers’ credit, a majority were sophisticated and well-made. And the level of craftsmanship throughout the 90-minute concert reflected the influence of workshops and academic courses that have become a professional training ground. The show’s title is optimistic, since it’s not certain that the works in progress cited will make it to the Great White Way. But optimism is musical theater’s oxygen.
That said, the program included some very appealing numbers that I look forward to hearing again. Leading the list were two numbers by Mr. Brown — “Wait ’Til You See What’s Next,” a song of breathless anticipation, written for “Prince of Broadway,” and the amusing “Nothing’s Bigger Than Kong,” from a musical version of “King Kong,” both performed by Mr. Brown.
Other standouts included “Not Again,” by Mr. Kitt and Neil Benjamin, from “Dave: The Musical,” sung by Elena Shaddow, and John Bucchino’s gorgeous lyrical ballad, “A Dream,” from the show, “Esaura,” adapted from a Danish novel, and sung by Kennedy Caughell and Justin Scott Brown.