Ziegfeld Follies of the Air – The New 1934 Live From Broadway Broadcast Revue
The Ziegfeld Society’s first full-fledged fundraiser comes to us a live radio broadcast direct from Heaven’s WHVN. Replete with period microphones and an on stage sound effects man/announcer Arthur Nichols (Ian Whitt) brandishing an APPLAUSE sign, the star-studded revue features many of Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld’s top performers, some undoubtedly there on special leave from lower depths.
The 1934 Ziegfeld Follies Quartet: Jamie Buxton as Judith Barron, Taylor James Hopkins as Jack Pepper, Chelsie Nectow as Vilma Ebsen, Matthew McFarland as Buddy Ebsen
With Paul Whiteman (Mark York) at the piano, 1919’s “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” forever associated with the slow descent of Ziegfeld showgirls down an inevitably elaborate staircase, is offered by The 1934 Ziegfeld Follies Quartet: Vilma Ebsen (Chelsie Nectow), Buddy Ebsen (Matthew McFarland), Judith Barron (Jamie Buxton), and Jack Pepper (Taylor James Hopkins). The able, young singers intermittently deliver commercial jingles like Buster Brown and Atlas Elevator Shoes, as well as providing harmonized backup.
Our well turned out Host, actor Eddie Dowling (Walter Willison), introduces each vocalist with sweeping appreciation. All are attired according to character by Costume Designer Mitchell Bloom.
Walter Willison as Eddie Dowling
Ruth Etting (Candice Oden) and Marilyn Miller (a sparkling Erin Cronican) arrive in tandem with excerpts from too many songs, leaving a choppy impression. Billie Burke, Mrs. Ziegfeld (Carole Demas) sings:.. You can do any little thing that you’ve a mind to, but you must do it with a twinkle in your eye…with flirty class. Later Burke is inexplicably interrupted by Marilyn Miller while performing “Look For the Silver Lining” , at first infuriated and then reconciled during the number. Clearly the writers know something we do not.
David Giardina as Will Rogers; Lee Horwin as Libby Holman
“In 1934, the #1 female box office star was Shirley Temple, the #1 male was Will Rogers. As Rogers, David Giardina sings a couple of laconic western songs with a little patter between. Both look and vocal style reflect the original without imitating. During the Quartet’s evocative rendition of “Limehouse Blues,” we have the unexpected pleasure of dancers Renee and Tony DeMarco (Heather Gehring and Lou Brockman) giving the radio audience time to refill cocktail shakers. Tango-ish choreography designed for the small stage is a marvel of sinuous winding and draping. Ms. Gehring reminds one of Cyd Charisse.
As Helen Morgan, Shelly Burch excels at Morgan’s warble, unstable octaves, and drunken spaciness. (Does the audience know Morgan was an alcoholic?) Lee Horwin’s scandalous Libby Holman has the right, deep, almost singing style. “Moanin’ Low” and “Am I Blue?” emerge with apt cynicism. Enough biographical monologue for its own show, however, tips this event’s balance. “You’re all wondering if I did it. (murdered her young husband). I take Jeanne Eagels’s advice, Keep your trap shut and become a legend.”
Carole Demas as Billie Burke; Erin Cronican as Marilyn Miller
Sheila Wormer plays Mr. Ziegfeld’s secretary Matilda “Goldie” Glough at first passing through the audience reminding us about cell phones and then in a ba-dump-dump conversation with Dowling. Ms. Wormer is good, the material not so much. Fanny Brice (Loni Ackerman), with nasal tonality, sings the unfamiliar “Becky is Back at The Ballet,” a strange choice considering the star’s signature numbers. Her last purposefully awkward turn lands the vocalist in a decidedly humorous, Brice position from which she has to be hoisted up. Dowling/Willison’s excellent, infectiously happy “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” and tender reprise of “A Pretty Girl…” are highlights.
Heather Gehring and Lou Brockman as Renee and Tony DeMarco
Also, indisputably a highlight, is the appearance of Mistinguett (Liliane Montevecchi) whom Ziegfeld pursued for his extravaganzas but never secured. Head to toe in flame red velvet (with boa), Montevecchi launches “Je Cherche Un Millionaire” and “Mon Homme” (“My Man”, a 1916 French song, then popularized in translation by Fanny Brice in 1921) with bravado, showing her fabulous legs, sharing anecdotes. (She once dined with Mistinguett and later played the veteran on stage.) “I was a star of The Folies Bergère for 10 years. I was covered in feathers. This is what’s left,” quips the famously wry artiste.
Mark York, Founder of The Ziegfeld Society and Artistic Director Walter Willison then surprise Montevecchi with its first annual Lifetime Achievement Award. The packed house erupts.
Mark York as Paul Whiteman; Liliane Montevecchi as Mistinguett
Mark York’s Musical Direction/Special Arrangements/Piano are symbiotically with performers every step of the way. Treatment of classic material is authentic and appealing.
This is an ambitious show with failings and successes. Talent is a mixed bag. Research is impressive. The Ziegfeld Society celebrates a link in entertainment history which should be supported, preserved, and enjoyed:
“The Ziegfeld Society of New York City, a not-for-profit organization, aspires to enlighten, entertain and educate current and future generations of theatergoers and young artists about the legendary performers, songwriters and creators of our vast musical theater heritage.”
Photos by Steve Friedman
Opening: Liliane Montevecchi receiving her award from Mark York
The Ziegfeld Society presents
Ziegfeld Follies Of The Air-
The New 1934 Live From Broadway Broadcast Revue
Devised and Directed by Walter Willison,
Musical Direction/Special Arrangements/Piano by Mark York
Broadway at Birdland
315 West 44th St. (With Thanks to Jim Caruso)
January 30, 2017
NEXT ZIEGFELD SOCIETY EVENT: Call On Dolly! A Celebration of the Broadway Hit Musical Hello Dolly starring Richard Skipper February 25, 2017 3:30 Hunter College
FOR RESERVATIONS – Call Lucy 917-371-5509