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The Seth Concert Series – Beth Leavel | Review

Beth Leavel
Beth Leavel

Beth Leavel is a proper Broadway belter – I couldn’t help but think of Ethel Merman listening to her sing. Hers has been a very broad career, though most of the shows she is most famously known for tend to be in have something of a feelgood factor about them, whether the plotline is as flimsy as it is in 42nd Street or as contemporary as The Prom. Some of Leavel’s Broadway experiences were evidently memorable, as she was able to talk with musical director Seth Rudetsky at length and in detail about events that took place as long as forty years ago.

Less memorable, it would seem, was her stint as Donna Sheridan in the Broadway production of Mamma Mia!, a song from which she needed several prompts to get through, which in some ways added to the fun of the performance. Leavel’s roots are in the south, but her southern American accent was knocked out whilst doing a graduate theatre degree in North Carolina, and when she made the move to New York City, it wasn’t long before speaking like a northerner became second nature.

As ever, the thing about online concerts is that one never hears the cheering and applause that one would back in the days before social distancing was a thing. And one isn’t quite sure here whether the audience as a whole was largely full of fans of The Prom or one of the other shows Leavel is associated with – some songs do, at least in my experience, get a bigger applause than others at least partly on the basis of people’s love for a particular production. Either way, there was much to enjoy here, particularly when her partner Adam Heller joined in for a duet of ‘You’re Just In Love’ from the Irving Berlin musical Call Me Madam (if you’ve never seen it, you’re not alone – it hasn’t been in the West End since 1952).

With knock out performances of numbers from Gypsy and Follies, it was difficult not to desire yet another round of revivals of those Stephen Sondheim musicals. I would have liked a sneak preview of a song from the upcoming Broadway musical adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada (postponed until further notice due to you-know-what) but there was plenty to savour: The Drowsy Chaperone, a show that didn’t do well in the West End (with a British cast) when it came over from the States, was a Tony Award-winning performance for Leavel, and listening to ‘As We Stumble Along’, it’s easy to see why.

In 1980 she was on for Annie in 42nd Street, before playing Dorothy Brock in 2002. There aren’t many actresses who have gone from playing a younger role in a Broadway original production to playing an older role years later in a Broadway revival of that same show, and Leavel knows it. A powerhouse performance from a delightful leading lady who doesn’t take herself too seriously – not even a global pandemic can wipe the smile off her face.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Beth Leavel starred most recently in her 13th Broadway show, The Tony-nominated and Drama Desk Winner for Best Musical, The Prom. She was awarded with Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League Award nominations for leading actress in a musical for her portrayal of Dee Dee Allen, a role written specifically for her. Beth also received a Tony, Drama Desk, NY Outer Critics Circle and LA Drama Critics Award for her performance as the title character in The Drowsy Chaperone on Broadway as well as receiving a Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle award nomination for her role as Florence Greenberg in Baby, It’s You. Other Broadway roles include June Adams in Bandstand, Emily in Elf, Donna in Mamma Mia!, Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein, Dorothy Brock in the revival of 42nd Street, Tess in the original company of Crazy For You, Mrs. Bixby in The Civil War, Ellie in Hal Prince’s Showboat, and Anytime Annie (Broadway debut) in 42nd Street.

She has made numerous appearances on television and in commercials. It was recently announced that Beth is slated to play Miranda Priestly in Elton John’s upcoming musical adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada on Broadway next season.

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