One sings with his fingers; the other, with his voice. And together, they perform a selection of songs in “Back From Broadway,” a tribute to the music of the Great White Way, currently running at the Stuart Street Playhouse through December 15.
The compact, New York Jewish-sounding Hershey Felder, best known for his one-man show, “George Gershwin Alone,” which he performed on Broadway and to record-breaking crowds last summer at the American Repertory Theatre, and the tall, middle America-looking James Barbour, who has starred as the Beast in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” as well as the Broadway productions of “Jane Eyre” and the revival of “Carousel,” met back stage a few years ago while performing in separate shows and became fast friends with a musical idea. They selected 13 Broadway tunes and wrote some material about pivotal points in their careers, apparently as a segue to reprising some of their most memorable portrayals. Though the personal tidbits are absorbing and the musical selections are glorious, the alternation creates a choppy format without any real bridge between the two men. But the main point of the show is music and what wonderful talents they are. Barbour sings in three distinctive voices - a breezy legato, a thin head timbre, and a booming, theatrical baritone - that are remarkable for their expressiveness and musicality, but lack fluid transitions from one to another. Still, when he morphs into the hooligan Billy Bigelow singing his soliloquy from “Carousel” or hurls into a mesmerizing “Molasses to Rum” from “1776,” Barbour creates a musical vignette that is enthralling.
Felder brings his concert pianist virtuosity to the show, whether playing Gershwin’s “A Rhapsody in Blue,” the last movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” or a humorous rendition of “Climb Every Mountain,” where he impersonates his alcoholic piano teacher from years past.
“Back From Broadway” closes with a singalong that is similar to the way Felder ended his Gershwin show. As he leads the audience in several called-out selections, it’s an easy leap to picture a much younger Felder joyfully providing the entertainment at family gatherings.