BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Porchlight Music Theatre made its debut recently at The Arts Club of Chicago with its hit musical revue series, New Faces Sing Broadway 1959, hosted by Gene Weygandt, directed by Adrian Abel Azevedo, and with music direction by David Fiorello.
The Porchlight series, continuing with New Faces of 1975 on June 6, draws upon the Hollywood and Broadway salutes which began with the RKO film New Faces of 1937, launching tap dancing star Ann Miller. The highly popular productions presented Maggie Smith and Eartha Kitt to audiences in 1952.
Among the celebrators were Porchlight’s Board of Directors President, Keith Olenik, and officers Tony Gibson, Tamara Sims, and Ron Zoromski, as well as board members John Belom, Jacqueline Shim Bryant, Michelle Cucchiaro, Brenda Didler, James Jensen, George Sargent, Jim Sheehan, Sara Siegall, and emeritae board members Mary Kay Conley and Rhoda Reeling.
The “Wizard” from the Broadway and touring productions of Wicked, Gene Weygandt, hosted the evening and performed songs from the 1959 Broadway year with a cast of up and coming new talent including Anastasia Arnold, Curtis Bannister, Katherine Bourné, Roy Brown, Charlie Ingram, Bernell Lassai III, Mallory Maedke, Jenny McPherson, Jeff Pierpoint, and Maisie Rose.
Porchlight Music Theatre’s Artistic Director, Michael Weber, engaged the audience with “Name that Show Tune,” a fast-moving music theatre trivia game where participants won Porchlight prizes. The audience participated in a sing-along for a rendition of “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music. And the evening concluded with Weygandt and the cast wishing the audience of The Arts Club, “So Long, Farewell,” also from The Sound of Music.
We spoke with Michael Weber about his “New Faces” revival.
How did you get the idea to choose “New Faces” and why did you choose those years for your series?
We like to choose Broadway seasons from three decades that offer a very different and distinctive musical ‘sound’ that show the audience how show tunes have evolved as popular music.
Was it based on the fact that the shows of those years were especially memorable?
We absolutely look to Broadway seasons that had a number of shows that turned out hit songs to make a really attractive songbook for that production. Sometimes the song may have had a longer life, being covered by Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Louis Armstrong, and others, than the show itself. So the audience finds themselves thinking: ‘I love that song, and I had no idea it was from that musical!’ So the evening also offers a bit of an easy music theatre history lesson, as well.
I know that Ann Miller (1937) and Maggie Smith and Eartha Kitt (1956) were in some of the “New Faces,” whether on Broadway or in the movies.
Other people who got their start in ‘New Faces’ reviews include: June Carroll, Robert Clary, Imogene Coca, Jane Connell, “Professor” Irwin Corey, Henry Fonda, Alice Ghostley, Ronny Graham, Tiger Haynes, Van Johnson, Madeline Kahn, Robert Klein, Carol Lawrence, Paul Lynde, Virginia Martin, John Reardon, Inga Swenson, and many, many others.
How did you get the idea to re-claim “New Faces”? It is just wonderful!
The plan for the series was the reaction to a few goals at Porchlight Musical Theatre and a number of audience requests we had been receiving. Goals that we had were to create a showcase for some of the brightest talent working in Chicago music theatre today. Much in the device of the original ‘New Faces,’ we would create an evening that would put front and center artists who we believed were someone our audiences should get to know and look for in future productions around Chicago theater. The actors in our series are chosen after auditions that reveal how they can best be shown off in that focus year of show titles.
Audiences had been requesting we do a ‘sing-along’ production and that they could play music theatre trivia games, so we have answered their requests by making both of those components a part of all New Faces Sing Broadwayproductions.
And as a part of Porchlight’s interest to promote music theatre as one of the great American-originative art forms, we look to offer the audience the experience of a ‘time-machine’ that takes them back to one complete season on the Great White Way with one of Broadway/Chicago Theatre’s leading actors as their guide and host.
Porchlight Music Theatre returns to The Arts Club Wednesday, June 6, for New Faces Sing Broadway 1975 with host Donica Lynn and featuring Alex Christ, William Dwyer, Gina Francesca, Desiree Gonzalez, Molly Kral, De’Jah Perkins, Emily Senkowsky, Koray Tarhan, Marco Tzunux, and Kaleb Van Rijswijck. Tickets are on sale at PorchlightMusicTheatre.org or 773.777.9884.
PHOTO CREDIT: Austin Packard