RHB opening

Red, Hot and Blue – Froth and Vaudeville, a Tonic

RHB opening

Red, Hot and Blue is a perky musical featuring far-fetched plot, ba-dump-dump lines, and social satire. It’s also the home of Cole Porter’s iconic “It’s De-Lovely” (written for, but not used in Born to Dance) and “Ridin’ High.” This production offers some good vocalists, several fine comic turns, a game chorus, and lively, if extremely broad direction. In keeping with original intention, it features several numbers dropped or replaced during the tryout/rehearsal process. ‘An over long show (oh, the subplots!) but fun. And frankly, when will you again have the chance…?

Nails O’Reilly Duquesne (Lauren Elaine Taylor) is a former manicurist from the wrong side of the tracks who widowed well, i.e. wealthy. At a fundraising event for the rehabilitation of ex-convicts-the upper crust is thrilled to fraternize with real burglars and murderers – she comes up with the idea of a national lottery to bankroll the organization. Neither her square lawyer and heartthrob Bob (Christopher Ryan), nor Policy Pinkle (Roger Rifkin), the convict they’ve sprung from Lark’s Nest Prison to mine his crafty brain, can at first come up with a gimmick. When Nails discovers Bob is still hung up on a toddler romance (Yes, toddler! He was six, she was four), she selflessly?! resolves that whoever finds “Baby” will win half the money. How will they know 18 years later? It seems Bob was accidently the cause of his playmate’s sitting on a hot waffle iron, leaving an indelible imprint.

Assuming they’ll never find Baby, Bob agrees even to the codicil of marrying his long lost love. Pinkle, however, must be blackmailed into project participation. He’s happy at Lark’s Nest where life is like The Barbizon. A description of daily delights is “cherce,” as Durante might say. Throughout, Bob finds himself constantly having to fend off the octopus attentions of Peaches La Fleur (Tara Lynne Khaler) who looks and acts just like her name.

The lottery is a huge success until the government gets involved (this satirical view would comfortably play on our own Daily Show or Saturday Night Live) and the real Baby is accidentally found. Interaction between socialites, convicts, the hoi polloi, and Congress is played with wide grins.

Lauren Elaine Taylor (Nails) looks like a leading lady. She has a strong, clear, alto voice reminiscent of Sutton Foster and gets the 1930’s Porter phrasing. Nails’ inadvertent avoidance of the waffle iron that might solve everything evidences good physical, comic timing. The loss of Taylor’s lower class accent during vocals is a disconnect, however, and she’s a little too aware of the audience.

Christopher Ryan (Bob Hale) is well cast. He wisely plays his role straight, minimizing registration, adding zest to otherwise corny lines. Ryan is aptly enmeshed in the shenanigans around him; just a little non-plused as the character. Love songs are appealing.

The enjoyable Roger Rifkin (Pinkle) who makes a home with Musicals Tonight, may never have had more fun as in this role originated by Jimmy Durante. He excels in the schmaltz of numbers like “A Little Skipper from Heaven,” cross examines himself with ironic skill, manages the slapstick of drop-out pills in the wrong glasses, and sails zingers as if doing so was second nature.

Director/Choreographer Thomas Sabella-Mills handles staging with a nice light touch, but lets a few of his actors ham up the proceedings more than the production needs. Musical Director/Vocal Arranger James Stenborg uses predominantly good voices with wide range to best advantage.

Red, Hot and Blue originally starred Ethel Merman, Bob Hope (as the male lead!) and Jimmy Durante.

Photo credit: Michael Portatiere

Cole Porter’s Red, Hot and Blue (1936)
Libretto by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
Directed/Choreographed by Thomas Sabella-Mills
Musical Director/Vocal Arranger James Stenborg
Musicals Tonight
The Lion Theater
410 West 42nd St.
Through October 14, 2012

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