As part of the Signature Theater’s Sizzlin’ Summer Cabarets series on Friday, August 9, 2013, Baritone Bob McDonald brought audiences to their feet as he performed a bonafide medley of classic Broadway showtunes, highlighting iconic composers and lyricists throughout the decades in Bob’s Broadway Blowout. Accompanied by pianist and artistic collaborator John Touchton, McDonald—who seemed eager to demonstrate his vast knowledge and repertoire of classic Broadway show tunes—has performed in a myriad of roles on Washington DC stages, including The Kennedy Center’s Sweeney Todd), Folger Theatre (Don Quixote), and, of course, Signature Theatre (Putting it Together). He is also known for his various roles in the Sondheim Festival in productions, including Passion and Sunday in the Park with George, as well as his anthem singing for the Washington Capitals.
McDonald opened the evening with his star-studded cast of special guests on stage, including: Broadway veteran Steve Cramer, TV personality, and voice of the Washington Capitals Wes Johnson, partner in “anthem-singing” crime Caleb Green, and actress Catherine Flye as the mother-in-law (both on- and off-stage). McDonald began on a cheery and whimsical note, performing selections from the repertoire of Gilbert and Sullivan, who are renowned for their comic operas including The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. His experience performing as a lead in all three of these musicals becomes evident as he masterfully transitions from piece to piece, using only nuances in his voice to move audiences from setting to setting.
On a related note, what is particularly commendable is that the entire production is done without microphones (until the very end), which provides a sense of intimacy and authenticity that is otherwise lost in large theatre spaces. With only a grand piano situated to the left of the stage and a small music stand situated center stage within a dimly lit cabaret-like environment, the stripped down performance refreshingly brought the focus to the music and to the performers—allowing soloists to shine. And shine they did.
TV personality and voice of the Washington Capitals Wes Johnson merits particular recognition for performing the notoriously wordy and hilariously entertaining “Trouble” from The Music Man—of whom McDonald jokingly accuses of “negotiating his salary by the word.” Johnson epitomizes the theatricality and whimsicality of the role, and, impressively, is able to get through the entire song without missing a beat (or ever stopping for air). His comedic timing was met with uproarious laughter from the audience.
Caleb Green—who noted that he hadn’t been on a stage in over 20 years—delivered a passionate performance of the iconic “When I First Saw You” from Dreamgirls, which he tenderly dedicated to his wife and daughter. His performance—accompanied by both piano and trumpet solos—perfectly melded the various melodies and sounds of the different instruments, elegantly blending each singular voice into a mellifluous harmony. Surely, his performance marked the romantic highlight of the evening.
Perhaps the most memorable portion of the evening for many (and certainly for myself) was the medley of songs from what McDonald called the greatest musical of our time: Les Misèrables. With Baritone McDonald playing Javert and guest Steve Cramer playing Valjean, the medley focused on the relationship between the two men, beginning from their “Confrontation” and ending with “Javert’s Suicide.” Steve Cramer—who performed in the national tour of Les Miserables as a member of the ensemble and to cover the role of Valjean—delivered a rousing performing of the emotionally charged “Bring Him Home”—which brought many of the audience members to tears.
Bob’s Broadway Blowout was as much an entertaining experience for me as it was an educational one, playing classic favorites while also spotlighting some of the lesser known musicals and songs from the early- and mid-twentieth century. Although McDonald is not scheduled to appear in the remaining season of the Signature Theatre’s Sizzlin’ Summer Cabarets, the series runs until August 17th, and I highly recommend going to check it out. It’s a unique experience that is sure to leave you tapping your toes and singing right along.Running Time: Approximately one hour, with no intermission.
Bob’s Broadway Blowout was performed twice on Friday, August 9, 2013 at Sizzlin’ Summer Cabarets at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. For tickets to the remaining performances of Sizzlin’ Summer Cabarets, call (703) 820-9771, or purchase them online.