Theater Review: ‘Broadway and the Bard’

One man's pastiche merges words and music
February 2, 2016 Updated: February 5, 2016

NEW YORK—To anyone who’s been following the doings of the entertainment world for any length of time, the name Len Cariou conjures up excellence, skill, and class. In this one-man presentation, which mixes and melds songs from beloved musicals with brief scenes from Shakespeare plays, Cariou first wins you over, then dazzles you.

His only helper onstage is pianist and music director Mark Janas. Janas, who co-conceived the show along with Cariou and director Barry Kleinbort, accompanies Cariou, occasionally throwing in a few lines of dialogue.

Cariou is able to project informality and intimacy.

Winner of the Tony and many other awards, with an encyclopedic list of credits in all media, Cariou is able to project informality and intimacy. He is singing and acting for you. He also intersperses the selections with entertaining and informative chat on his experiences.

Just some of the contents:

The show opens with the fitting speech, “If music be the food of love …” (Orsino from “Twelfth Night”), followed by Stephen Sondheim’s “Love, I Hear,” and the lilting “Falling in Love With Love,” by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.

Len Cariou's one-man presentation
Len Cariou’s one-man presentation “Broadway and the Bard.” (Carol Rosegg)

Selections sometimes relate to one another, oppose one another in tone or content, or simply stand by themselves. A piece as Henry in Shakespeare’s “Henry V” is powerful. Then brief sections from “Applause” (Charles Strouse and Lee Adams) thoroughly pull you in, and you give Cariou the reward—applause—he’s seeking. (Cariou won a Theatre World Award and a Tony nomination for his Broadway performance of this show.)

Cariou’s portrayal as the vicious Iago in “Othello” is quite compelling and well accented here by Matt Berman’s sinister lighting. This is followed by the much lighter “The Taming of the Shrew,” as Petruchio, who demands complete obedience from a woman.

Fortunately for those who believe in women’s equality, this is followed by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner’s “How to Handle a Woman,” espousing the opposite philosophy from that of Petruchio. Lerner and Loewe insist you must show a woman lots of love.

Cariou travels easily from speech to song and back again. His singing pipes are no longer those of the man he once was, but his technique, so implanted and seasoned by his many years of experience, and repertoire of roles and shows—his legendary Sweeney Todd (Tony and Drama Desk awards), “A Little Night Music” (Tony  nomination), the aforementioned “Applause”—is such that he always comes through. And he moves easily and confidently about the stage, dressed in simple black shirt and trousers.

Broadway veteran Len Cariou mixes musical songs with Shakespearean monologues.  (Carol Rosegg)
Broadway veteran Len Cariou mixes musical songs with Shakespearean monologues. (Carol Rosegg)

He tells of one experience when he served as associate director of the famed Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. He had desperately wanted to portray Macbeth and had been promised the role by the director. Unfortunately, this did not come to pass; he was instead offered King Lear. It’s about time you played character parts, the director opined. Cariou here remarks, “I was all of 35!” 

But Cariou found Lear a very exciting experience, and he never regretted taking the part. Then he treats us to a pained speech by the disappointed ruler, betrayed by one of his ungrateful daughters.

There are Marc Antony from “Julius Caesar,” more songs by Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, John Kander and Fred Ebb, and other choice selections. There is more drama: Prospero from “The Tempest” and the wonderful speech of Jacques from “As You Like It,” sometimes referred to as “The Seven Ages of Man” speech.

One of the most moving selections is the poignant “September Song” (Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson); Cariou’s rendition brought tears to my eyes.

The show ends with a rousing “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from Cole Porter’s musical “Kiss Me, Kate.”

For lovers of words and songs, “Broadway and the Bard” is altogether a delightful way to spend an evening (or afternoon) in the presence of an artful, seasoned performer.

‘Broadway and the Bard’
Lion Theatre
410 W. 42nd St. 
Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes (no intermission)
Tickets: 212-239-6200, or Telecharge.com
Closes: March 6

Diana Barth writes for various publications, including her own New Millennium, an arts publication. She may be contacted at diabarth@juno.com