Musicals Tonight’s 95th revival, Du Barry Was a Lady, is its 14th Cole Porter Show. The 1940 meringue-weight musical ran 408 performances starring Ethel Merman, Bert Lahr and Betty Grable in her Broadway Debut. There are three or four familiar songs including “Friendship,” later used in Call Me Madam and “Well, Did You Evah!?” that would highlight High Society. The book is sheer ba-dump-dump pastiche.
Peyton Crim and Jennifer Evans; Jennifer Evans and Payton Crim
Sweet, rather dull Louis Blore (Peyton Crim), formerly a men’s room attendant, has won a sweepstakes of $75,000. Sizable rock in hand, he proposes to club vocalist, May (Jennifer Evans). She, in turn, is fixed on handsome columnist Alex (Patrick Oliver Jones- curiously unromantic) whose sister Alice (Katherine McLaughlin) works with her. Other nightspot denizens include Alice’s beau Harry (Tim McGarrigal), club owner Bill Kelly (able, rubber-faced Richard Rowan), and mercenary Cigarette/ Hatcheck girl Vi (Lily Tobin, overtly channeling Ruth Gordon through Betty Boop.)
Tim McGarrigle and Katherine McLaughlin
Direct from the clink, new employee Charlie (Ernie Pruneda), mistakenly slips Louis a Micky Finn (drop-out drug) intended to keep Alex from a date with May. Having just seen the Red Skelton/Lucille Ball film Du Barry Was a Lady, Louis dreams he’s King Louis XV. Everyone shows up in period garb.
May becomes Du Barry holding off her Sire with faux Mae West tone: “I know you want me. I can read you like a book, but you don’t have to use the Braille System.” Meanwhile she’s hot for and hiding a period version of Alex. Farce ensues. Louis develops a clearer take on the life to which he awakens after Versailles, loses or gives away almost all his windfall, yet remains upbeat. Of course.
Patrick Oliver Jones and Jennifer Evans
A contemporary production of Du Barry depends on its director and performers to make froth sit well. In order to bring this off, actors must “play it straight” i.e. appear to an audience as if characters know no better and speak in natural syntax. While a little wink/wink mugging may fly, this particular version, particularly its foray into ersatz history, is self consciously broad to the extreme. (Director Evan Pappas)
Richard Rowan and Payton Crim
Still, the piece has its rewards. Peyton Crim makes a swell Louis, with royal embodiment mostly skirting over-the-top rather than toppling. He’s credibly big-hearted, obtusely hopeful, deftly clumsy, and fluently delivers Porter’s iconoclastic phrasing. Tim McGarrigle (Harry) shows agreeable aspects of Donald O’Connor and Peter Sellers. His nifty, exaggerated French accent echoes Lumiere, the animated candlestick of Beauty and The Beast.
Both Jennifer Evans and Katherine McLaughlin have good voices and dance well. Both, however, overplay. Evans looks to the audience rather than interacting with fellow characters, doing best in duets with Crim who seems to focus his partner with naturalness. McLaughlin, alas, is additionally saddled with the ugly handicap of chewing gum?!
Evan Pappas’s Choreography is lively and cute with subtle awareness of limited space. Use of that space, especially employing back-up girls/ boys, is visually appealing.
Vocal Arrangements are very fine.
A painted backdrop and rose trellis that flips to become a bed, work to add color and fantasy.
Long legged Chorus Girls: Elizabeth Flanagan, Ashley Griffin, Tina Scariano
Chorus Boys: Mark Bacon, Jamil Chokachi, Colin Israel, Evan Maltby
The venerable Musicals Tonight has completed another season, sharing productions of shows otherwise rarely (if at all) available to audiences. It continues to provide a worthy and appreciated platform.
Photos: Opening – The Company
Musicals Tonight! presents
Du Barry Was a Lady
Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
Libretto by Herbert Fields & BG DeSylva
Directed & Choreographed by Evan Pappas
Music Director/Vocal Arranger- James Stenborg
Through April 9, 2017 The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street