First Nighter: Len Cariou Grandly Celebrates 'Broadway & The Bard'

Len Cariou bowed on Broadway in 1969 as Henry V and has been striding those boards ever since. In the intervening year's he's also made the large and small screens. Right now, he's prominent on CBS's Blue Bloods as the former New York City police chief/patriarch of the law-monitoring Reagan clan. Plus, he's picking up awards as an ensemble player (he's Cardinal Law) in Spotlight, currently Oscar-nominated for best picture of 2015.

Busy as he is, it's obvious that Broadway and Henry V still occupy his concerns. Hence, Broadway & The Bard, a clever one-man revue in which he performs, of course, but which he also put together with director Barry Kleinbort and musical director/pianist Mark Janas--both of them also long accomplished at their tasks. So maybe call this one a three-man, one-man revue.

The conceit is that if you give a quick look at musical comedy tunes over the decades--or, in some cases, search a little longer--you'll come upon one that echoes something William Shakespeare put in the mouth of his characters. And Cariou is ready, willing and eager to reprise the 1564-1616 playwright as well as to intone a matching Great White Way ditty.

(That's right, we're approaching April 23, 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death--Cariou refers to the "passing"--and this production can be considered an appealing tribute.)

So In Twelfth Night, for instance, Count Orsino wants his musicians to play on, since music, he assumes, is the food of love. Cariou speaks the speech trippingly on the tongue (as he does all the speeches included), and teams it with Stephen Sondheim's "Love, I Hear" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and with the Lorenz Hart-Richard Rodgers "Falling in Love With Love" from the tuner adaptation of The Comedy of Errors, known as The Boys From Syracuse.

And that's how things go merrily along for about 80 minutes. No sooner does Cariou become spirited with Henry V's exhortation before the battle of Agincourt than he segues amusingly into the Lee Adams-Charles Strouse title tune from Applause. (Not only did Cariou come to Broadway as Henry V, but only some months later he opened in Applause.)

There's no need to mention all pairings that pop up, though it deserves to be said that Cariou, Kleinbort and Janas carry on clever at linking. A personal favorite? Lear's "O, reason not the need" plea, followed by Lionel Bart's "Reviewing the Situation" from Oliver and the Howard Dietz-Arthur Schwartz "By Myself" from the short-lived Between the Devil. (I know, I know, show aficionados, it existed. Look it up.)

By now it's obvious that, although the revue title may suggest otherwise, the songs aren't always plucked from musical adaptations of Shakespeare. Of course, the Sondheim-Leonard Bernstein "I Have a Love" from West Side Story and Cole Porter's "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" from Kiss Me, Kate certainly are.

What may be less noticeable is that the proceedings off-handedly refer to Jacques's seven-ages-of-man oration, or, at the very least, to some of the ages. Deliberately or maybe accidentally, this jibes with a few of the ages Cariou ambles through.

It could be said he arrived on local boards in his third or fourth age and is now in, say, the sixth. That may account for his most outstanding rendition. It follows Jacques's poetic rundown and is the Maxwell Anderson-Kurt Weill "September Song" from Knickerbocker Holiday. The fathomless pathos Cariou instills in it is show stopping as well as heart stopping.

Speaking of those seven ages, it can be reported that, as might be expected, Cariou no longer has his second- or third-age voice. The sixth-age one, however, is well worth hearing. The veteran performer continues to exert masterful control over the lines in Shakespeare plays to which he's committed so much of his distinguished career. Once more into the breach, indeed.