On Saturday, the 92nd Street Y launched the latest edition of "Lyrics and Lyricists" with "The 1959 Broadway Songbook," which concludes tonight. At first, the idea seemed to have been borrowed from another long-running New York concert series, Town Hall's "Broadway by the Years." But the L&L program, which was hosted and produced by the cabaret singer Jeff Harnar, turned out to be a highly ambitious graduate lesson in the etymology of the musical comedy. Using the 23 shows that were playing on Broadway 48 years ago, he took us step-by-step through a typical Broadway production of the so-called "Golden Era."
The soprano Sarah Uriarte Berry and baritone David Burnham served as the romantic leads, and could have stepped out of a Disney musical. Mr. Harnar also cast Sally Mayes and, with admirable modesty, himself, as what he called the "second-banana couple."
The program illustrated the introduction of the characters with an "I Want" song (the beautiful "I Wish It So"), an "I just met a girl"-type song, a comedy number ("I Don't Think I'll End It All Today"), a romantic duet, a charm song, a wedding vow, and so on. For the big dance number, Donna McKechnie re-created Gwen Verdon's Tony-winning turn in "Redhead." Later, Ms. Mayes hit a home run with Billy Barnes's touching "Too Long at the Fair," a diva aria at the same level as anything in "Follies."
But the standout of the evening was the host, who was funnier than I've ever seen him. His high point - literally - arrived in a routine that symbolized the kind of music one might hear on the street during a Broadway intermission, wherein he knocked out a stratospheric version of the "Theme from a Summer Place." After watching Mr. Harnar perform for decades, it's something of a shock to discover that his greatest strength may not be in traditional cabaret material, but as a pop falsetto in the fashion of the Frankies - Lyman and Valli. It's almost like he's been holding out on us for all these years.