With spirited singing and amazing stage presence, The Merry-An Singers from Sri Lanka brought alive the Best of Broadway

That top hat….

Balanced with flamboyance at the finger-tip, this satin-lined accessory becomes much more. It is reminiscence and skill, melody and mirth, and song. It is Broadway.

One glimpse calls to mind many icons: Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, an Easter Parade, a White Christmas, an extraordinary song-writer named Irving Berlin, a girl with a gun known as Annie, and that ‘There's No Business Like Show Business'.

That hat, worn with high heels kicking the air, arrests in its low-set brim the exhilaration, the wonder, the delight of the Broadway musical at its best.

Much of that high spirit was captured over the weekend when the Madras Musical Association hosted a charity concert in aid of the Little Sisters of the Poor-Home for the Aged featuring The Merry-An Singers from Sri Lanka in ‘The Best of Broadway'.

Beginning with that Broadway anthem ‘That's Entertainment' from the musical “The Band Wagon”, the singers moved effortlessly between sets with a touch of the 1920s, when musicals were at their prime, reminiscent of glowing summer afternoons and shiny, dark nightclubs. In a flourish of colour, dance and incredibly spot-on costumes, they put the audience through the paces of love in ‘Hello! Dolly' from the musical of the same name, separation in “South Pacific's” ‘There's Nothing Like a Dame', success in ‘Puttin' On The Ritz' and fortitude in “The Sound of Music's” ‘Climb Every Mountain'.

Magical voices with incredible range wafted over the microphone and the songs were delivered with sentiment befitting the era — André David's ‘There's No Business Like Show Business' from the Berlin masterpiece “Annie Get Your Gun” evoked images of gorgeous sunsets, cowboys in tassel-happy suits, ballgowns with bustles and our endearing love for show people. His ‘Reviewing The Situation' from “Oliver” was a wonderful take on Fagin thinking of reasons to stay honest. ‘Night Fever' from “Saturday Night Fever” was sung with superior voice modulation and imitated Barry Gibb's falsetto to a T. Suchiththa Wickramasooriya's rendition of ‘Sunny Side Of The Street' from “Lew Leslie's International Revue” lent credence to his well-rounded voice. ‘Stranger in Paradise' (“Kismet”) by Julius Mitchell had all the poignancy of heart-crossed lovers and Joshua Asokan's ‘Poor Little Oyster' from “Fifty Million Frenchmen” rendered in his choirboy tenor had panache and class.

Style and substance

Inakshi Sirimanne not only has an arresting voice, her stage presence was equally striking in ‘Cabaret', ‘I Enjoy Being A Girl' and Cole Porter's ‘I Love Paris' from “Can Can”. Anushiya Bastiampillai excelled as the Mother Abbess in Rodgers' and Hammerstein's ‘Climb Every Mountain'. Sandani Wijetunge in ‘C'est Magnifique', Mihara Jayalath in ‘You Can't Get A Man With A Gun', and Shamistha De Silva in ‘What A Feeling' lent plenty of style and spirit to the show. Priyadarshini, Ryan de Mel, Upul Bandara and Yanitra Kumaraguru were also part of the performance by the 30-year-old singing group based in Colombo and tutored by the gracious Mary Anne David and the charming Andrew David.

Much of the evening's music that flowed like maple syrup was in large part due to three of Sri Lanka's finest musicians — Eshantha Peiris on the piano, Sumudi Suraweera on the drums and Isaac Smith on the double bass — who accompanied the singers.

The concert achieved most of what it set out to do — it duplicated at the Museum Theatre the grandeur of musicals made half-a-century ago, turned anxious anticipation into decadent delight and gave us a touching survival from the best years of our lives.

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