The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn -- Encores!

Look who's dancing,
Look who's on air, Silly and dizzy and too dumb to care. . . .

--- from "Look Who's Dancing."
Jason Danieley
Jason Danieley & Katherine Faye Barry
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
When the musical adaptation of Betty Smith's best selling novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn opened over half a century ago (April 1951), Broadway was a a neon-lit garden in glorious musical theater bloom with shows like Call Me Madam, Guys and Dolls and The King and I. Theater goers bought tickets priced well below today's astronomical prices and expected -- and got -- big orchestras playing memorable, melodic songs, pleasant but never grating orchestrations, graceful choreography.

Encores!, the beloved staged concert series of theatrical golden oldies gives today's audiences a chance to once again enjoy the flavor of some of these shows. While some like Chicago and Wonderful Town have proved to be too good for just five performances, others like this year's first production, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, don't have all the elements in place for another and longer Broadway life, but they are nevertheless well worth seeing during their brief presence in the spotlight.

Just to see and hear conductor and musical director Rob Fisher and the marvelous Encores! orchestra on the City Center stage is a thrill in these days of synthethizer heavy, over-amplified sound. So is seeing some of today's best musical theater artists sing the topnotch songs that once made even the lesser hits enjoyable and watching dancing that doesn't look like a demo for an aerobics class at your local gym.

The non-musical film adaptation of Betty Smith's novel about her childhood in a poor neighborhood at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge (with James Dunn, Joan Blondell and Peggy Ann Garner) adhered to the novel. In adapting it for the musical stage, George Abbot and Smith switched the focus from the novelist's young alter ego, Francie Nolan, to her parents -- taking them from first kiss and joy to hardship and despair caused by the charming Johnny Nolan's inability to stay away from the pub long enough to bring home his paycheck as a singing waiter. In the book and the movie Francie had to come to terms with the wastrel father she adored and her stern and more grounded mother's demands. The musical not only made Francie more of a supporting player but focused on the more comical romantic mishaps of Francie's aunt Cissie (this buildup of the second banana roles to showcase the comic talents of Shirley Booth). With Johnny Nolan something of an outer borough Billy Bigelow replica, and the romantic lead's sister more star than featured player, even the excellent score by Arthur Schwartz and lively lyrics by Dorothy Fields couldn't keep the show open for more than a respectable if disappointing 267 at the Alvin Theater.

 Emily Skinner &  John Ellison Conlee
Emily Skinner & John Ellison Conlee
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The many fans of the Encores! productions won't be disappointed in this revival. It will come as a delightful respite for those who left a new musical about Brooklyn holding their ears from the over-miked music, and shaking their head over the state of the musical theater. Those with fond memories of Shirley Booth can rest easy -- Emily Skinner's is a first-rate Cissy. She not only puts her own personality into the role but, being a terrific singer, makes the most of the show-stopping He Has Refinement as well as the other dandy songs written for her character. The always reliable John Ellison Conlee makes a fine Harry (the favorite of Cissy's several common-law Harry).

Jason Danieley's soaring voice is all the charm that Johnny Nolan needs to endear himself to us. If his acting range is somewhat limited, there's the plus of his fine dancing. Sally Murphy brings a strong, sweet voice to such romantic ballads as "Make the Man Love Me" and twelve-year-old Katherine Faye Barry makes an impressive City Center debut as Francie.

Rob Fisher's superb band takes up most of the stage, but director Garry Griffin steers the star and ensemble players around this challenging set-up with finnesse, as does choreographer Sergio Trujillo. His "Look Who's Dancing" deserves its reprises, as do " I'm Like a New Broom" and "I'll Buy You a Star." In his hands the show's version of a dream ballet, "Halloween Ballet" is a knockout.

David Ives who has adapted thirteen of these concerts, has streamlined the book. Though some might find the Johnny-Kathy romance a bit too glossed over, the quick switch from bride to young mpther pushing baby carriage is so amusing and clever that it works. And in the end, the strong emotional undercurrents of Smith's come through.

You'll probably want to hear the songs again after the show, and you can -- but with the original rather than the Encores! cast. Here's the link to that CD at our book store: A Tree Grows In Brooklyn Original Cast Album

The other two shows to be given the Encore! treatment this year are Purlie, based on the late Ossie Davis' Purlie Victorious, (March 31-April 3) and Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock's The Apple Tree, based on stories by Mark Twain, Frank R. Stockton and Jules Feiffer, and starring Kristin Chenoweth (May 12 to May 16).

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Based on Betty Smith novel

Book by George Abbott and Betty Smith
Music by Arthur Schwartz
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Directed by Gary Griffin
Music Director: Rob Fisher
Concert Adaptation: David Ives
Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo
Cast: Jason Danieley (Johnny Nolan), Sally Murphy (Katie), Emily Skinner (Cissy), John Ellison Conlee (Harry), Nancy Anderson (Hildy), Mark Ledbetter (Willie), Sean Palmer (Allie), Jeffrey Schecter (Petey), Jeff Brooks (Swanswine), James Clow (Aloysius), Beth McVey (Mae), Jennifer Hope Wills (Delia) and Katherine Faye Barry (Francie Nolan). Ensemble: Sean Attebury, Heather Ayers, Jordan Cable, Caitlin Carter, Carson Church, Joseph Dellger, Susan Derry, Sarah Jane Everman, Thom Graham, William B. Hubert II, Lorin Latarro, Jess Leprotto, Krisha Marcano, Julianna Rose Mauriello, Karyn Overstreet, Larry Raiken, Gordon Stanley, John Wilkerson, Laurie Williamson and Tony Yazbeck.
Scenic Consultant: John Lee Beatty
Costume Consultant: Carrie Robins
Lighting Design: Ken Billington
Sound Design: Tom Morse
Music Coordinator: Seymour Red Press
Original Orchestrations: Joe Glover & Robert Russell Bennett
Running time: intermission.
City Center, 130 West 55 Street, 212-581-1212
5 performances only: Feb. 10, 11, 12, 2005 at 8pm; Feb.12, 2005 at 2pm; Feb. 13, 2005 at 6:30 pm
Tickets: $25.00-$90.00
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on Feb. 11th performance
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture /Orchestra
  • Payday /Company
  • Mine 'Til Monday / Jason Danieley & Friends
  • Make The Man Love Me / Sally Murphy & Jason Danieley
  • I'm Like A New Broom/ Jason Danieley & Friends
  • I'm Like A New Broom/ Jason Danieley & Friends
  • Look Who's Dancing / Sally Murphy, Jason Danieley, Emily Skinner & Neighbors
  • Reprise: Make The Man Love Me/ Sally Murphy
  • Love Is The Reason/ Emily Skinner with Nancy Anderson, Susan Derry, Sarah Jane Everyman, Laurie Williamson, Jennifer Hope Wills
  • Mine Next Monday, James Clow
  • If You Haven't Got A Sweetheart/ Julianna Rose Mauriello, Sarah Jane Everyman, John Wilkerson & Neighbors
  • I'll Buy You A Star / Jason Danieley & Company
Act Two
  • Entr'acte/Orchestra
  • That's How It Goes/ Larry Raiken & Neighbors
  • He Had Refinement/ Emily Skinner
  • Growing Pains /Jason Danieley & Katherine Faye Barry
  • Is That My Prince? / Emily Skinner & Jeff Brooks
  • Reprise: Is That My Prince? / Emily Skinner & Jeff Brooks
  • Ballet: Halloween/ Jason Danieley , Jordan Cable & Company
  • Don't Be Afraid / Jason Danieley
  • Reprise: I'm Like a New Broom / Jason Danieley
  • Reprise: Love is the Reason / Emily Skinner & John Ellison Conlee
  • Reprise: Look Whos Dancing/ John Ellison Conlee with Jess Le Protto, Julianna Rose Mauriello, Sarah Jane Everyman
  • Finale: I'll Buy You a Star/Company
Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.

Tales From Shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

At This Theater Cover
At This Theater

Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide

Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam

metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

The Broadway Theatre Archive


©Copyright 2005, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from