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Television Review

A Tribute to Broadway Love Songs

March 03, 2001|DARYL H. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In "My Favorite Broadway: The Love Songs," the likes of Nathan Lane, Chita Rivera, Michael Crawford and Bebe Neuwirth deliver one showstopper after another, only to be upstaged by Julie Andrews when she sings a couple of simple phrases from "The Rain in Spain."

These are the first notes she's sung onstage since the much-publicized complications of an operation on her throat in 1997, and for a few, fleeting moments, the clarion voice is back. The audience roars its gratitude.

Recorded at New York's City Center in October at a fund-raiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the program arrives tonight on KCET as a presentation of PBS' "Great Performances" series. It's a showcase of Broadway love songs old and new, from "Of Thee I Sing" and "Kiss Me, Kate" to "Rent" and "Aida."

A few of the songs are performed by their original stars, including the still-velvet-voiced Robert Goulet, singing "If Ever I Would Leave You" from "Camelot." And one song is presented by its composer when an impassioned Barry Manilow belts out "Every Single Day" from his musical "Harmony."

But the show's chief delights come when songs are delivered in new ways.

*

When Lane reprises "Sue Me" from his acclaimed appearance in the 1992 revival of "Guys and Dolls," for instance, it's as a '50s, close-harmony, doo-wop number, with soaring backup vocals by Michael McElroy, Darius DeHaas and Dwayne Clark.

Later, three timeless ballads about love's ability to overwhelm and confuse--even as it delivers perfect happiness--take on added dimension when delivered back to back, with Rebecca Luker ringing through "Too Late Now," from "Royal Wedding"; Peter Gallagher crooning "Sometimes a Day Goes By," from "Woman of the Year"; and Marin Mazzie packing a three-act drama's worth of emotion into "Not a Day Goes By," from "Merrily We Roll Along."

One of the program's most transcendent moments is delivered by Heather Headley, the rising star of "Aida," who uses a little jazz, a little soul and a whole lot of delicious vocal nuance to convey the rapture of "He Touched Me," from "Drat! The Cat!"

And Neuwirth is at times giddy, at times swanky as she leads a parade of chorus boys through "I'm a Brass Band," from "Sweet Charity."

A couple of the 23 numbers have been assigned to the wrong singers (as when "Rent's" Adam Pascal attempts Gershwin), and performers miss their pitches here and there. But with Graciela Daniele directing and choreographing, David Horn directing for television and Paul Gemignani conducting the American Theater Orchestra, this program really sings.

* "My Favorite Broadway: The Love Songs" airs tonight at 8 on KCET-TV.

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