Having had terrific success with Singin’ in the Rain (1952), 12 years later, Betty Comden and Adolf Green moved their movie industry pastiche forward to the 1930s with Fade Out- Fade In. The Broadway musical featured Carol Burnett, Dick Patterson, and Lou Jacobi. According to records, initial box office was stronger than Hello, Dolly! and Funny Girl (hard to believe), but Burnett first suffered an accident and then chose to exit for a show produced by her husband.
Hope Springfield (Vanessa Lemonides), movie usher, is unexpectedly “discovered” during the normal run of business by studio head Lionel Z. Governor (Jeffrey Arnold Wolf, a Rudy Vallée type based on L.B. Mayer). Flown to Hollywood for a screen test, she arrives to find LZ abroad and one of a cordon of obsequious nephews in charge. Rudolf (Rob Lorey) the low man on the totem pole, observes that she’s not at all LZ’s usual type – i.e. she’s a smart, wholesome girl instead of a dumb blonde on the make. Ralph, or #4 as his uncle thinks of him, is determined to show the New York boys what he’s worth by completing the film before LZ returns. He hustles his ingenue into the star system, pairing her in a musical called The Fiddler and the Fighter with their resident hunk/ megalomaniac (imagine Gaston in Beauty and the Beast) Byron Prong (Bill Coyne). The naïve young woman is dazzled by Prong. Rudolf is stuck on her.
Filming goes better than anyone expects, the girl has talent! What are the odds?! When LZ returns, however, it turns out this is the wrong usher! Hope is summarily dumped and the proverbial air head, marcelled blonde is imported (Oakley Boycott – imagine Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain). I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the rest. There are, as well, parodies of Shirley Temple and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
Musical Theater Works’ appealing production offers talent and clever direction that outshines the material which is funny, but hit or miss. Added to the incentives of historical curiosity and extremely affordable, light hearted entertainment, there are some excellent performances.
Vanessa Lemonides (Hope) is the real deal. The actress has a strong, mid level musical theater voice. She moves beautifully, dances, and is a spot-on, natural comedienne - physical and otherwise; even a good mimic. A number where the artist literally dashes back and forth presenting two sides of a story is priceless. Lemonides is credible and pleasurable every moment. Casting directors take note. This young woman could do justice to Fanny Brice.
Rob Lorey (Rudolf) imbues his character with sweetness, apparently a victim of circumstances and lack of confidence rather than a thorough wimp like his fellows. Untapped backbone comes to fore, of course. Lorey is so natural an actor, it’s not a shock. He makes Rudolf an attractive option for Hope. A low key and engaging performance.
Bill Coyne (Byron) has some good songs and some funny moments, but his effort to seem vain and egotistical goes over the top to appearing gay. This may be intentional, but my inclination is to imagine this wasn’t the authors’ choice in 1964. The occasionally rolled “r” is a disconnect.
Oakley Boycott (Gloria) is a hoot as sex-on-the-hoof without a brain. Her wide-eyed mugging would fit into any silent film. Voice and accent are beautifully irritating. Timing is terrific – as if she simply can’t process anything quickly. Body language is skilled. Jeffrey Arnold Wolf (LZ) has a wonderful turn with the song “I’m at a Dangerous Age.” Robin Hayes (Dr. Taurig, LZ’s Viennese shrink) delivers solid characterization. Terrance Clow (Louis, the Bill Robinson role) transitions from educated to Uncle Tom seamlessly and handles a jaunty duet with ease.
Thomas Sabella-Mills (Director/Choreographer) has peppered the piece with funny conceits: when Byron is called off his prison set to meet Hope, he arrives chained to three other convicts in a bundle, later his relationship to mirrors Is engineered for laughs; Hope’s attempt to prove to Rudolf she’s had “experience” is grand; Gloria is a cartoon scream; back-up violins in a production number are the first of surprising and effective cardboard cut-outs…there’s more.
The ensemble has good voices directed to their best advantage by David B. Bishop. They’re energetic and focused. Duets work well, harmonies are pleasing. Costumes are period perfect, character specific, and amusing.
Photo Credit: Michael Portantiere
2. Bill Coyne, Rob Lorey
3. Oakley Boycott
Fade Out, Fade In
Book & lyrics by Comden & Green
Music by Jule Styne
Directed and Choreographed by Thomas Sabella-Mills
Music Director/Vocal Arranger- David B. Bishop
The Lion Theater
410 West 42nd St.
Through October 28, 2012