On Tuesday, April 24 the audience at the Arlington Theatre will time-travel through a full century of Broadway’s greatest hits, courtesy of New York composer and arranger Neil Berg and his 100 Years of Broadway concert. I spoke with Berg last week about the show.
How long have you been doing this? There’s actually more than one answer to that. I’ve been producing Broadway concerts in one form or another for 20 years. They started out as benefits for things like leukemia research. People who attended those inquired about private concerts, and I started to produce versions for corporate clients like Goldman Sachs. Finally, the demand reached the point where we decided to offer this type of show to the public. That was when Adam Friedson got involved, just last year. He helped me to take 100 Years of Broadway on tour. At first, our schedule had 10 shows. From there it expanded to 30, and then to more than 100-all in one year!
How do you pick the songs? The big thing is that it’s not just based on the taste of the theatrical community. I like to say that, in terms of what material is presented, I created this show not for my agent or my friends who are theater professionals, but for my mother and people like her-the fans.
What kind of performers can we expect to see? These are five of the best singers and actors on Broadway, and they are all used to starring in shows. They also really shine in the concert setting, because they sing with such integrity and commitment. Capathia Jenkins was Caroline in Caroline, or Change, and also did an amazing job playing opposite Martin Short in his show. She gets to sing some things that we know a lot of people really want to hear, from “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls to the theme from Cabaret. And you know she’d never get a chance to sing Sally in Cabaret if it weren’t for something like this.
Who do you think the show appeals to? We tend to attract a mature audience, but I also think the show is ideal for families and for younger people. It’s a perfect “Broadway 101” experience.
Are you serious about covering the whole 100 years in the title? I knew if I was going to call it 100 Years of Broadway, I had better make sure that no one could say that we didn’t really go back that far. So, we sample everything, going all the way back to George M. Cohan, when Broadway musicals were still based on operettas and vaudeville. The Irving Berlin numbers are from a bit later. Things really get rolling when we hit the 1920s and the 1930s. To me, the greatest song ever is “Old Man River” from Showboat, and of course that’s in the show. Showboat is really the start of the modern era, 15 years before Oklahoma!
Is there a showstopper? There are lots of them. The choice of who will be doing the biggest star turn varies based on who is in the cast at the time, but you can bet that Capathia Jenkins’s “And I Am Telling You” will be done pretty close to the climax of this concert.
How do you participate? I am the musical director, and I narrate from the piano. Even in a 2,000-seat auditorium, I try to make it feel like we’re in someone’s living room. That sense of intimacy helps people get even more excited.
Neil Berg’s 100 Years of Broadway will be at the Arlington Theatre at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 24. For tickets and information, call 963-4408.