Most of you are likely familiar with this light romance from the movies’ 1957 adaptation, The Prince and The Showgirl with Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe…the making of which inspired the more recent My Week With Marilyn. The original play opened on Broadway in 1963 starring Florence Henderson and Jose Ferrer.
It’s 1911. King Nicholas of Carpathia (Brian Knoebel) and his Regent father, Prince Charles, (Jonathan Raviv) are in London for the coronation of George V. Charles picks Mary (Jessica Wagner) out of the chorus of a silly musical he’s attended to join him for supper etc. The Milwaukee-born performer is dazzled then wary. Before she does anything more than decide Charles is sweet, she passes out on vodka. In the morning, delegate-to-the-crown, Northbrook, (Mitch Greenberg) borrows a tatty raincoat to cover her stage costume, so Mary can return to the theater. She never makes it to the door.
Instead, Mary becomes enmeshed in the royal family. The queen mother (Joan Barber) enlists her as replacement lady-in-waiting for the coronation. Mary sympathizes with, then helps Nicholas abort insurrection against his inflexible parent (democratizing their country) and ends up his “date” at a ball. Finally, she circles back to an enlightened Charles, never having changed the evening costume she borrowed from the show. After a succession of rose-colored mishaps, the author chooses to let realism dictate the ending.
“I was born in the shade of my family tree and I admit it was very shady,” Charles says/sings in a number that tiptoes towards “I Went To A Marvelous Party.” Jonathan Raviv is enjoyably credible as the egotistical, obtuse Charles. Despite (admirable) low key portrayal, manly frustration is palpable, leadership and stubbornness clearly habitual. When the character softens, he takes us with him; ballads are affecting. “How Do You Do, Middle Age” exhibits wit and timing. Raviv has an appealing, mid range, leading man voice and looks to back it up.
As Northbrook, Mitch Greenberg hits such a right note, Coward himself would’ve approved. His British accent is impeccable though perhaps not sufficiently clip for his character’s position. Greenberg manifests the wry, experienced demeanor of someone who’s seen and arranged for a multitude of unacknowledged events. Paternal feelings towards Mary are subtle but present. Comic timing is spot-on. A professional in every respect.
Jessica Wagner’s Mary begins so over the top I was concerned the actress might mug her way through playing offstage as well as on (appropriate to the musical.) Fortunately, the performer gets her sea legs creating an forthright, Midwestern characterization. She honestly seems nonplussed at the ongoing situation—watch for wonderful, little pauses each time Mary gets reconscripted, thrilled at the Cinderella aspects of her experience, pugnaciously on Nicholas’ side, and smitten with Charles. Enacting the entire musical (in which she ordinarily has a bit part) for the young king is a tour de force. Wagner’s confident, vibrato-filled contralto wears attractively.
Brian Knoebel’s King Nicholas is terrific. The actor walks a line between boy and man with great finesse. We feel the surety of contemporary aspirations for his citizenry and the roiled temper of being restricted, both innocence and exuberant pleasure in discovering London without his keepers (he makes us want the fish and chips), and deep satisfaction in the outcome of Mary’s machinations. His Nicholas will make a good king.
Except for a cockney street vendor, where attitude is appropriate (music hall numbers in fine, broad alto), Joan Barber’s initial roles are sheer ham. The actress fares better playing the Queen Mother whose warmth and absentmindedness she manifests with skill. A running joke about Mary’s unchanged dress and uncomprehended French conversation are handled with deft humor.
The piece is much too long, but there are some splendid songs and a book that feels refreshing rather than dated. Musical numbers are fluidly integrated. Those involving the company, such as “London Is a Little Bit of All Right” and “Coronation Corale” are both cutely staged and vocally layered like good trifle.
Mel Miller’s estimable Musical’s Tonight continues to offer an entertaining, low cost glimpse into Musical Theater history. Where else would you be able to see a charming chestnut like this?
2015 Season: Eddie Cantor’s hit Whoopee! March 3-15, Jule Styne‘s Hazel Flagg March 17-29, George & Ira Gershwin’s Pardon My English April 16-28.
Photos by Michael Portantiere
1. Jessica Wagner
2. Jessica Wagner, Jonathan Raviv
3. Mitch Greenberg, Jessica Wagner
4. Brian Knoebel, Joan Barber
Musicals Tonight! presents
The Girl Who Came to Supper
Music & Lyrics by Noel Coward
Libretto by Harry Kurnitz
Based on Terrance Rattigan’s 1953 play The Sleeping Prince
Directed and Choreographed by Thomas Sabella-Mills
Musical Director/Vocal Arranger- David. B. Bishop
The Lion Theatre 410 West 42nd Street
Through November 16, 2014