Belt-tightening measures in the new economic squeeze are being felt all over town, but at the chic Café Carlyle—even if the marquee names lack the usual luster in the new year—elegance still prevails. Broadway Romance, a musical journey through the turbulent stages of love illustrated by timeless songs from Broadway musicals, might seem under-
rehearsed and hastily assembled, but no matter. The two versatile, attractive and immensely talented stars sharing a tiny stage the size of a FedEx box are matinee-idol tenor Howard McGillin and golden-haired, silver-voiced soprano Rebecca Luker. They perform both solos and duets with dazzling skill, but the audience seems to like them best when they blend their voices like two kites wafting toward the ceiling. Theirs are not rolling, trilling voices, but more like buttered and battered stage voices, ready to pop into a preset oven in time for dessert. Conjuring memories of two shows I have enjoyed them in, it’s like The Phantom of the Opera meets Magnolia Ravenal from Show Boat.
Under the guidance of arranger-pianist Ted Sperling, the show is pretty cut and dried, with few surprises but lots of charm. Tracing the arc of a relationship between two people with songs from musicals famous and contemporary, Ms. Luker and Mr. McGillin take you through stages that begin with anticipation (Leonard Bernstein’s “Something’s Coming”) and insecurity (“Will He Like Me?” from She Loves Me), move up through dating hell (Sheldon Harnick’s “Tonight at Eight”), admitting that Cupid’s arrow has found its mark (Frank Loesser’s “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” from Guys and Dolls), planning for rings and commitments (“An Old Fashioned Wedding,” the hilarious Irving Berlin addition to Annie Get Your Gun, written for an over-the-hill Ethel Merman in the Lincoln Center revival when she was 66), and second thoughts that finally turn into total paralyzing panic at the altar (“I’m Not Getting Married Today” from Company, which Ms. Luker performs at breakneck speed—very hard to sing, but hilarious). Ultimately, the love recital reaches for gratitude (“They Were You” from The Fantasticks) and settles for lifetime commitment (Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s “Come Rain or Come Shine” from St. Louis Woman), an optimistic anthem that rarely works out in real life. Some of the selections are questionable. It’s tough to find much romance in “Buddy’s Blues,” a comic baggy-pants vaudeville turn in Follies, or in Stephen Sondheim’s cynical, hard-boiled and depressing “Could I Leave You?” from the same show—and “First Date/Last Night” from the recent flop Dogfight doesn’t work at all. Mr. McGillin starred in the Broadway revival of She Loves Me, so why not reprise the rousing title song in place of the long-winded procreation number “The Begat” from Finian’s Rainbow? And I’m sad that Ms. Luker doesn’t do even one of the great Jerome Kern ballads she sings so well in her own solo cabaret act. I can think of dozens of songs her mellow voice is better suited for than “Could I Leave You?”
Still, there’s a lot to enjoy. Both singers are in peak form, and there’s a minimum of extraneous chatter. No lofty goals here. The aim is simple—to make you feel cozy, entertained and romantic on a cold winter night. Bring someone special.