Saturday, February 17, 2024

"Broadway Songbook: Broadway in Love" at Park Square Theatre

As part of their soft reopening after some financial troubles over the last year, Park Square Theatre is bringing James Rocco's Broadway Songbook series back to St. Paul. When he was Artistic Director at the Ordway, James did a dozen or more shows in the series, most of which I attended. I fondly remember them as the best musical theater edutainment, with James' stories and history combined with live performances by some of #TCTheater's top talent. The series has continued at various locations since James left the Ordway in 2017, but hopefully this is the first of many at Park Square. It's February, so the topic for this Songbook is "Broadway in Love," a very broad topic since just about every musical has a love story. So there was less of a cohesive historical or thematic throughline in this show, but more just a collection of some of James and friends' favorite love songs from musicals. Only two performances remain, so head to downtown St. Paul if you've been missing this unique brand of musical edutainment. And follow Park Square for the upcoming announcement of their four-show season, beginning with a summer mystery.

James' frequent collaborate Raymond Berg returns to music direct this piece and accompany the singers on grand piano, along with percussion and bass. The uber talented cast (several of whom are Songbook alums) includes Jennifer Eckes, Hope Nordquist, Aja D. Parham, Andrew Wilkowske, and Cameron Wright. Each one gets several great solos, plus a few duets, mash-ups, or group numbers. The full songlist is below for nerds like me; most of the songs are from classical musicals of the early to mid 20th century, with some newer musicals represented too. All of these performers are so fantastically talented, not just in singing these familiar (and sometimes not so familiar) tunes, but also in performing and telling the story of the song. James of course adds a few historical tidbits as he introduces the songs and composers. 

Highlights of the show include Jennifer and Hope dueting on "For Good" from Wicked, the ultimate love song about friendship; "Some Enchanted Evening" from South Pacific (which I'm pretty sure was written for Andrew to sing, so suited is it to his voice); Aja and Hope with a gorgeous mash-up of "Bill" from Show Boat and Fanny Brice's signature song "My Man;" Aja and Cameron singing a couple of Duke Ellington songs separately and together (and also pretty much anytime Cameron opens his mouth and shares his impressive vocal stylings); Jennifer and Andrew's cute and funny duet of "Old Fashioned Wedding" (the latter playing electric guitar); Hope's fast and funny "Getting Married Today" with support from Andrew and Jennifer; and the quintessential musical theater ode to love - "Seasons of Love" from my favorite musical RENT.

James is currently off directing a show who knows where (a lot of his stories start with "when I was working on this super important project or with this well known person"), but he promised he'll happily return to St. Paul to continue the Broadway Songbook series at Park Square Theatre. The first one in this next iteration of the series continues through Sunday only.

Scroll down for the full songlist...

  1. Lullaby of Broadway, Rocco
  2. I Got Love, Aja
  3. If I Were A Bell, Jennifer
  4. Almost Like Being In Love, Andy
  5. The Gentlemen Is A Dope, Hope
  6. Laura, Cameron
  7. Bill/My Man, Aja & Hope
  8. Hello Young Lovers, Jennifer
  9. Some Enchanted Evening, Andy
  10. For Good, Hope & Jennifer
  11. If You Believe, Cameron
  12. Seasons of Love, All
  13. What More Do I Need, Rocco
  14. Unexpected Song, Jennifer
  15. She Loves Me, Andy
  16. Cry, Cameron
  17. Ring Them Bells, Hope
  18. The Boy Next Door, Aja
  19. Old Fashioned Wedding, Andy & Jennifer
  20. Marry Me, Rocco
  21. Getting Married Today, Andy, Hope, & Jennifer
  22. I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good/Mood Indigo, Aja & Cameron
  23. What I Did For Love, All
  24. Shout, All