If you're any fan of the Broadway musical – who isn't, really – then the intimate cabaret revues produced by Music Box Theater are required listening.
Its latest version, Broadway at the Box, 2020 is no exception. Actually, it proves the rule. You know the one I'm talking about: that these five super-talented singers/actors/performers are the best in town. They know their way around a stage as if to the manor born, and there ain't nothing they can't sing.
Next up, at the end of April, is a Motown take-down, but they've done shows using the Beatles, country, '60s rock, rhythm & blues; any conceivable musical genre is catnip to them. But give these phenomenal pros a Broadway melody, and, I swear, heaven's portals open. We're the ones purring.
As you know, they're alumni of the fabled Masquerade Theatre which shuttered in 2012. Masquerade had been going through financial difficulties for quite a while, and tensions with the artistic director and the board had been brewing for months. Seeing what was to befall the company, these five formed their own troupe, The Music Box Theater, and decided to produce nightclub-style shows at Radio Music Theatre on Colquitt, the small venue that once housed the incomparable comic talents of Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell, and Rich Mills, as the dysfunctional Fertle family from Dumpster, Texas.
The gamble paid off handsomely. We now have an entirely new family to celebrate. And that's exactly how you're treated at Music Box.
Pre-show, the five usher, take drink orders, chat up the audience, and make you feel as welcomed as if you're Flo Ziegfeld just out on the town for a night's entertainment. Cafe tables, lit by votives, surround the small stage, on which you munch on bar mix, cheesecake, and a good selection of beer and wine, and some very tasty mimosas, if you're inclined. The atmosphere is homey and close, like visiting old friends, who only want you to be happy during your stay. As they proudly state, with tongue planted, We're better when you're drinking.
Though each is entirely distinctive in style and voice, the Fabulous Five blend together like angels.
Rebekah Dahl is electric, Brad Scarborough smooth, Kristina Sullivan shiny, Cay Taylor sultry, and Luke Wrobel's deep baritone crooning could melt butter. Put these stars together and there's a new constellation in town.
Abetted by the ultra-snazzy jazz quartet of Mark McCain (lead guitar), Austin Biel (keyboards and guitar), Long Le (bass guitar), and Arthur Gilligan (percussion) – the band has never sounded so good. Wait for McCain's dreamy improv accompaniment to Wrobel's silky rendition of Cole Porter's “So In Love” from Kiss Me Kate. His guitar riffs are another star in the firmament, sounding like we're sitting in on some forgotten Capitol Records recording session from the swingin' '60s. Utterly mesmerizing.
What makes these shows such a pleasure is that each number is its own concert aria, almost a condensed version of the show from which it's taken. These singers are such sly actors, the songs fly high – the ensemble's blowsy “Easy Street” (Annie); an ethereal “On a Clear Day” (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) from Taylor; a scathing “Ladies Who Lunch” (Company) from Dahl; a bluesy “Lovin' That Man Of Mine” (Show Boat) from Sullivan. There are selections from classics Wicked and Guys and Dolls to new Tony-winners Hadestown and Dear Evan Hanson, and a gloriously rhapsodic “I Believe” (from the rapturously politically incorrect Book of Mormon) from Scarborough, that rivals the Olivier Award-winning performance sung by Gavin Creel in the London production. The entire revue is a Broadway-Baby high.
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There are also rarities and forgotten gems among the standards, always a treat to hear; some lovely number from a show you've never seen, or one that closed after an aborted run and you'll probably never hear it again. Like Jason Robert Brown's country-infused, heartfelt “It All Fades Away,” richly sung by Wrobel from Bridges of Madison County (2014), which won the Tony for Best Original Score, but long after the show closed, or Brown's rueful “Stars and the Moon” from his first show, Songs From a New World, incomparably rendered by Taylor. The group has its personal favorites and is eager to introduce us to unsung composers and lyricists, a great delight that's always a hallmark of MBT's cabaret.
The group has done a slick job of editing. I don't think there's one bad number. The evening flows by, whether they all strut to Jerry Herman's titular “Mame” or “The Best of Times” (La Cages aux Folles), or delight us with an antic-frantic seven-minute version of West Side Story as the Act I closer.
This is one glorious show, compact, gloriously performed. Music Box Theater never disappoints. They've raised the bar even higher for Broadway at the Box, 2020. Go hear what all the shouting's about. There's a rousing parade happening on Colquitt. Don't let it pass you by.
Broadway at the Box, 2020. continues through April 18 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. at The Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt. For more information, call 713-522-7722 or visit themusicboxtheater.com. $33 - $43.