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Jessie Mueller and company spend A Night at the Tonys

The Chicago Humanities Festival concert traversed six-plus decades of musical theater

 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Jessie Mueller in Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Tammy Mader in Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Doug Peck in Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Rebecca Finnegan in Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Ernestine Jackson in Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
André De Shields in Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
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Christine Mild in Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Foilied Again in Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
James Earl Jones II in Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Beckie Menzie and Tom Michael in Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Karen Mason in Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Meghan Murphy and Andrea Prestinario in Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Meghan Murphy, Emily Rogers, Rebecca Finnegan and Bethany Thomas (front) and Andrea Prestinario and Doug Peck (rear) in Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Emily Rogers and Adrian Aguilar in Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
James Earl Jones II, Adrian Aguilar, Travis Taylor and Devin DeSantis in Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Chicago Humanities Festival's A Night at the Tonys
On Monday night, Jeff Award winners Doug Peck and Rob Lindley presented their fifth annual collaboration on a musical-theater concert (The William and Greta Wiley Flory Concert, to be fancy about it) for the Chicago Humanities Festival. Past themes have included “The Birds and the Bees” for last year’s festival theme, “Animal,” slates of Academy Award–winning Best Songs, and a concert staging of Follies.

This year, to complement the fest theme of “Journeys,” the pair presented "A Night at the Tonys": a (nearly) chronological program of a song from every Best Musical Tony Award winner, from Kiss Me, Kate to A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Yep, that’s 67 songs, counting 1960’s tie between The Sound of Music and Fiorello!, but with the help of what host Lindley termed “audition cuts” for most of the numbers, and with a slew of talented friends the likes of André De Shields, Karen Mason, Ernestine Jackson, Bethany Thomas and this year’s Tony-winning best actress, Lindley and Peck’s pal Jessie Mueller, they got through the list in three and a half pretty glorious hours.

The progression really did illustrate the journey of Broadway’s sound over the last 65 years, with other genre influences beginning to assert themselves on the big stage. Hair fell to the more traditional 1776 in 1969, but Galt MacDermot got a Tony for a rock score three years later with Two Gentlemen of Verona, represented here by “Night Letter,” delivered with a psychedelic growl by Bethany Thomas—even if Peck poked fun at the little-revived show beating Follies in its year.

You could hear the blues hit the Tonys as Jackson closed the first act with a searing rendition of “Measure the Valleys,” Lena Younger’s 11 o’clock number from 1974’s Raisin (Jackson earned a Tony nomination as Ruth Younger in the original Broadway cast, but moved up to Mama for a 2006 revival here at Court Theatre). Jackson also essayed a jazzy early take on “If I Were a Bell,” reprising her role as Sarah Brown from the 1976 black-cast revival of Guys and Dolls.

Mueller preceded that with the opening solo, South Pacific’s "Wonderful Guy," following the convenient group opener, Kiss Me, Kate’s "Another Openin’, Another Show." Mueller also took double duty on 1960 with a medley of “My Favorite Things” and a rendition of Fiorello!’s “When Did I Fall in Love” that absolutely slayed.

Other highlights included De Shields opening the second act with a fierce-as-ever reprisal of his original title performance in 1975 winner The Wiz, singing “So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard” in his original 40-year-old costume, floor-length cape and all. Mason returned to Norma Desmond’s “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard, and earned the evening’s one fudge with her already-extant dual arrangement of “Now I Have Everything” and “Married” from 1965 and 1967 winners Fiddler on the Roof and Cabaret, respectively (James Earl Jones II dreamed “The Impossible Dream” from ’66’s Man of La Mancha after Mason’s pairing).

Thomas showed off her remarkable range with takes on Forum’s “That Dirty Old Man,” Hallelujah, Baby!’s “My Own Morning,” Hairspray’s “I Know Where I’ve Been” and Kinky Boots’s “Hold Me in Your Heart”; Rebecca Finnegan did the same in the 1970s passage alone with a breathtaking run of Applause’s “But Alive,” A Little Night Music’s “Send in the Clowns”, Annie’s “Little Girls” and Sweeney Todd’s “The Worst Pies in London.”

As the 21st century hit late in the evening, Emily Rogers and Adrian Aguilar performed Tammy Mader’s choreography to a prerecorded “Simply Irresistible,” from the controversial 2000 winner Contact. Irreverent winners Avenue Q (2004) and The Book of Mormon (2011) got solid renditions of their scores’ safest-for-work songs by Meghan Murphy (“There’s a Fine, Fine, Line”) and Devin DeSantis (“I Believe”), respectively. And Aguilar, recently returned from his Broadway debut in Rocky, mastered the rap opening of In the Heights’ title song.

Spring Awakening’s “The Bitch of Living” felt like the one misstep, with Aguilar, Jones, DeSantis and Travis Taylor seeming out-of-sync from the start. And Gentleman’s Guide’s “I Don’t Understand the Poor,” while nicely droll, isn’t a very lively grand finale. So it was easy to forgive Lindley and Peck for the addition of a 68th number at the curtain call—if you’ve got Jessie Mueller here, after all, why wouldn’t you have her lead the cast and audience in a Carole King number from the show that made her a Tony winner six months ago? Beautiful, indeed. Check out the evening’s complete set list below.

1949 — Kiss Me, Kate — “Another Openin’, Another Show” — Bethany Thomas and cast

1950 — South Pacific — “Wonderful Guy” — Jessie Mueller

1951 — Guys & Dolls — “If I Were a Bell” — Ernestine Jackson

1952 — The King & I — “Something Wonderful” — Rebecca Finnegan

1953 — Wonderful Town — “Wrong Note Rag” — Beckie Menzie & Tom Michael

1954 — Kismet — “Not Since Ninevah” — Christine Mild

1955 — The Pajama Game — “Hey There” — Meghan Murphy

1956 — Damn Yankees — “Whatever Lola Wants” — Tammy Mader

1957 — My Fair Lady — “On the Street Where You Live” — Travis Taylor

1958 — The Music Man — “Till There Was You” — Jessie Mueller & Rob Lindley

1959 — Redhead — “Erbie Fitch’s Twitch” — Tammy Mader

1960 — The Sound of Music/Fiorello! — “My Favorite Things”/“When Did I Fall in Love” — Jessie Mueller

1961 — Bye Bye Birdie — “Put On a Happy Face” — James Earl Jones II

1962 — How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying — “I Believe in You” — Devin DeSantis

1963 — A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum — “That Dirty Old Man” — Bethany Thomas

1964 — Hello, Dolly! — “Ribbons Down My Back” — Ernestine Jackson

1965 — Fiddler on the Roof — “Now I Have Everything” — Karen Mason

1967 — Cabaret — “Married” — Karen Mason

1966 — Man of La Mancha — “The Impossible Dream” — James Earl Jones II

1968 — Hallelujah, Baby! — “My Own Morning” — Bethany Thomas

1969 — 1776 — “He Plays the Violin” — Andrea Prestinario

1970 — Applause — “But Alive” — Rebecca Finnegan

1971 — Company — “Marry Me a Little” — Foiled Again (Rob Lindley, Anne Sheridan Smith, Allison Bazarko)

1972 — Two Gentlemen of Verona — “Night Letter” — Bethany Thomas

1973 — A Little Night Music — “Send in the Clowns” — Rebecca Finnegan

1974 — Raisin — “Measure the Valleys” — Ernestine Jackson

1975 — The Wiz — “So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard’ — André De Shields

1976 — A Chorus Line — “Nothing” — Meghan Murphy

1977 — Annie — “Little Girls” — Rebecca Finnegan

1978 — Ain’t Misbehavin’ — “Black and Blue” — André De Shields

1979 — Sweeney Todd — “The Worst Pies in London” — Rebecca Finnegan

1980 — Evita — “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” — Christine Mild

1981 — 42nd Street — “Lullaby of Broadway” — Foiled Again

1982 — Nine — “Unusual Way” — Andrea Prestinario

1983 — Cats — “Memory” — Christine Mild

1984 — La Cage Aux Folles — “I Am What I Am” — Rob Lindley

1985 — Big River — “You Oughta Be Here With Me” — Anne Sheridan Smith & Allison Bazarko

1986 — The Mystery of Edwin Drood — “Moonfall” — Jessie Mueller

1987 — Les Misérables — “Stars” — Travis Taylor

1988 — The Phantom of the Opera — “Music of the Night” — James Earl Jones II

1989 — Jerome Robbins’ Broadway — “Cool” — Adrian Aguilar

1990 — City of Angels — “With Every Breath I Take” — Beckie Menzie

1991 — The Will Rogers Follies — “Look Around” — Tom Michael

1992 — Crazy for You — “I Got Rhythm” — Beckie Menzie & Tom Michael

1993 — Kiss of the Spider Woman — “Kiss of the Spider Woman” — Meghan Murphy

1994 — Passion — “Loving You” — Rebecca Finnegan

1995 — Sunset Boulevard — “As If We Never Said Goodbye” — Karen Mason

1996 — Rent — “Take Me or Leave Me” — Meghan Murphy & Andrea Prestinario

1997 — Titanic — “The Proposal/The Night Was Alive” — Travis Taylor & Devin DeSantis

1998 — The Lion King — “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” — Bethany Thomas

1999 — Fosse — “Big Spender” — Meghan Murphy, Emily Rogers, Christine Mild, Andrea Prestinario, Rebecca Finnegan, Bethany Thomas

2000 — Contact — “Simply Irresistible” — Emily Rogers & Adrian Aguilar

2001 — The Producers — “Springtime for Hitler” — Devin DeSantis

2002 — Thoroughly Modern Millie — “Gimme, Gimme” — Andrea Prestinario

2003 — Hairspray — “I Know Where I’ve Been” — Bethany Thomas

2004 — Avenue Q — “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” — Meghan Murphy

2005 — Spamalot — “Find Your Grail” — Christine Mild

2006 — Jersey Boys — “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” — Beckie Menzie & Tom Michael

2007 — Spring Awakening — “The Bitch of Living” — Adrian Aguilar, James Earl Jones II, Devin DeSantis, Travis Taylor

2008 — In the Heights — “In the Heights” — Adrian Aguilar

2009 — Billy Elliot — “Electricity” — Rebecca Finnegan

2010 — Memphis — “Big Love” — James Earl Jones II

2011 — The Book of Mormon — “I Believe” — Devin DeSantis

2012 — Once — “Falling Slowly” — Rob Lindley & Christine Mild

2013 — Kinky Boots — “Hold Me In Your Heart” — Bethany Thomas

2014 — A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder — “I Don’t Understand the Poor” — Rob Lindley and cast

2014 — Beautiful — “I Feel the Earth Move” — Jessie Mueller and cast

Comments

2 comments
Kris V

It wasn't my intention to suggest MacDermot's score won a Tony, but you're right that my poor wording sounds like I did. What I get for writing this at 2am.

ThomasMShea

Galt MacDermot didn't win a Tony for Two Gents. Sondheim did, of course. And the signature song from Man of La Mancha is actually called "The Quest (The Impossible Dream)." Thanks for posting the set list.