This is a cute musical. Even its being dated (1956) doesn’t dim innate charm. Synopsis: Susanswerphone, a small, basement, switchboard answering service owned by Sue (Amie Bermowitz-an engaging Betty Garrett-type who deserves bigger roles), employs Pollyanna-like Ella (Oakley Boycott) and pert Gwynne, an added character? (Samantha Gershman.) Ella assumes other identities when she answers calls: Santa Claus for a little boy who won’t eat his vegetables, a French receptionist at a restaurant, and despite being admonished, gets involved in subscribers’ lives: mustard plaster for opera’s Madame Grimaldi, introducing two clients who have poodles to mate.
Caitlin Wilayto, Kacie Burns, Brent Heuser, Alexandria Van Paris, Andrea Weinzierl
Sight unseen, Ella’s in love with Plaza 9, 7473 = Jeffrey Moss (Brent Heuser), here a womanizer. The writer is having a crisis of confidence, unable to finish a musical without a recently departed collaborator. As “mom,” our heroine supports and chides him. “He calls me mom/He thinks I’m 63” shows just what chronological age meant back then. When Moss avoids a final deadline, Ella crosses the line and turns up at his apartment. She spontaneously calls herself Melisande, explaining away what she knows about his life with ostensible psychic abilities. Of course, they get involved.
She also appears anonymously in the lives of struggling, method actor Blake Barton (Roger Reed-good job with the traditional marbled Brando speech and punk attitude) and dentist/aspiring songwriter Dr. Kitchell (Will Porter- just the right amount of Martin Shortish exaggeration-a hoot) connecting them both to Moss’s show.
Amie Bermowitz and Cooper Grodin
Meanwhile Sue is being pursued by Sandor (Cooper Grodin- too many accents, too little oily seduction), a con man who sets up his illegal bookie operation at the service masquerading as Titanic Records. Codes are used to place bets. An order of Beethoven’s 10th Symphony (the composer only wrote 9) eventually brings down the operation. Oblivious to the gamblers, Inspector Barnes (an excellent Bill Bateman) and his underling Francis (Stephen Raymond- sweet in the small part) follow Ella, assuming an illegitimate ring of escorts or drugs or…
Oakley Boycott and Roger Reed; Oakley Boycott and Will Porter
For the piece to work, it must be awash with convincing naïveté, not camp. Sometimes this is accomplished beautifully, at others, actors are so hammy, one wonders they’re directed by the same person. When leads play it straight, as in “Better Than a Dream” “Hello, Hello There,” “Long Before I Knew You”, the two are well matched and engaging. Heuser sings ballads well but is so aware of the audience, he sometimes neglects onstage fellows. Boycott is so aggrandizing, she appears to parody Ella Petersen with every oversized gesture and mugged expression. Sympathetically droll songs loss their pleasing gloss. A good voice is not enough.
Chorus girls: Caitlin Wilayto, Kacie Burns, Alexandria Van Paris, Andrea Weinzierl sing, dance, and effect just the right wide-eyed demeanor.
Stephen Raymond and Bill Bateman
Casey Colgan’s staging/choreography is appealing except for an acrobatic cha-cha number which looks as if it escaped from Las Vegas. The prologue and “The Midas Touch” are period perfect. Numbers like “Hello, Hello There” and “It’s a Simple Little System” play deftly regardless of the small stage. “Drop That Name,” the show’s comic centerpiece, unfortunately substitutes Vaudeville broad for wry sophistication and timing.
Mixed bag that it is, it’s a pleasure to see the lighthearted piece live and to discover, as always some fine thespians.
Costumes are for the most part apt and fun. Exceptions: Ella’s capri pants and off the shoulder blouse makes her resemble sex-kittenish Ann Margaret and that red, sequined, va va voom dress would’ve made the character too self conscious. “I Met a Girl” is usually set on the street with dancers dressed as everyday people. Here, they’re in polka dot dresses and chorus boy shirts which robs the number of n illusion of spontaneity.
Also featuring: Ryan Fitzgerald, Jonathan Hoover, Don Rey, Tanner Rose, Chris Woods, Nic Thompson
Photos by Tyler Milliron
Opening: Brent Heuser, Oakley Boycott
Spring Schedule: Boys from Syracuse (Feb 13-25)
Anything Goes! (Feb 27-March 11)
Calamity Jane (New York premiere-March 13-25)
Musicals Tonight! presents
Bells Are Ringing
Libretto and Lyrics – Betty Comden/Adolph Green
Music – Jule Styne
Director/Choreographer – Casey Colgan
Music Director/Vocal Arranger – Christopher Stephens
Through October 29, 2017