New York Stage & Beyond showcases Broadway talent

The New York Stage & Beyond series got back to its roots Saturday night with a concert at Artemus Ham Hall bearing the uncommercial title "Tony Award-Winning Hits from Broadway’s Greatest Musicals."

Don’t know if the low turnout was a result of that title (which may sound to some like an evening of retreads), or if the public was scared off by the $85 (plus fees) top ticket price for a small-scaled concert featuring three unknown (in Vegas) performers. And one minor beef: That title was misleading. There were plenty of songs not from Tony-winning hits.

But it was good to see the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Performing Arts Center’s New York program doing what it was originally intended to do: showcase Broadway talent.

Those who closely follow Big Apple theater and cabaret were undoubtedly familiar with the three New York stars: James Barbour, the original beast in Walt Disney’s stage version of "Beauty and the Beast"; Julia Murney, a replacement in "Wicked" in the coveted role of Elphaba; and Lauren Kennedy, who played the Lady of the Lake in "Spamalot."

All three were in top voice. They (backed by four onstage musicians) made standards such as "The Impossible Dream" (from "Man of La Mancha"), "The Music that Makes Me Dance" (from "Funny Girl"), and "Defying Gravity" (from "Wicked") sound new by playing close attention to lyrics. You felt as if the actors were experiencing the soul of these numbers for the first time. And seldom-heard tunes — such as "Gorgeous" (from "The Apple Tree") and the poignant "I Miss the Mountains" (from "Next to Normal") served as a reminder that there’s plenty of top-notch Broadway material out there yet to be given proper due.

The off-Strip Onyx’s "Naked Boys Singing" has been running, amazingly, nearly two years, give or take an occasional hiatus. The gay musical, about the difficulty in being not physically but emotionally naked, recently reopened after a several month break.

The show’s been altered a bit with a couple of new cast members, but, unfortunately, the changes are not for the better. Too many songs lack the spark they once had, and one new performer — let’s spare his name — was obviously chosen strictly for his blond hair and boy/man physique. His lack of pitch murders what was once a show-stopping comic number.

Double whammy for the frequently excellent Onyx: Last column I ran an item saying that the innovative transvestite show "Christopher Peterson’s Eyecons" was being held over through March. Wound up it was canceled the Sunday prior, but no one at the theater thought it was worth telling the public about, even though the owner/manager knew the column item was coming. This happens too often in Vegas. There was recent fanfare for a production of the Ossie Davis’ seldom seen "Purlie Victorious" at the College of Southern Nevada, but the public relations department never got around to informing folks that the play wasn’t going to happen. Theaters should announce canceled shows the same way they announce pending openings. Why risk the anger of potential customers?

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheater You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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