In an election year full of worst possible behavior and damaging convictions, it’s uplifting to be reminded of a man of principle. (The bad guys seemed easier to identify then.) That Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning Fiorello! is a terrific piece of writing (a master class, really; don’t just watch, listen), with, in this production, adroit direction, artful visuals, droll choreography, and a company of notably young, talented players, is a veritable treat. Getting past their youth takes a minute. After that, it’s clear sailing.
Julius Reese, Michael Brahce, Ben Dallas Redding, Ryan Morsbach
If you’re familiar with Fiorello H. LaGuardia, it’s probably as the progressive, three-term Mayor of New York who helped quash a corrupt Tammany Hall political machine. Few are aware the lawyer was Deputy Attorney General, a decorated Army airman, served in Congress with firebrand commitment sponsoring labor legislation and railing against immigrant quotas, and was one of the first outspoken critics of Hitler.
Fiorello! concentrates on vicissitudes of city politics, LaGuardia’s personal life and character. There are three love stories – two based on fact, one, comic relief, lost as well as won elections, and a look at politics which, though couched in humor, is likely not too far from the truth.
Katie Birenboim and Chelsea Cree Groen
The longshot nominee is chosen at a poker table (“Politics and Poker,” one of musical theater’s cleverest numbers) presided over by party head Ben (Ryan Morsbach who especially shines in “Little Tin Box,” another whiz-bang funny song). Women of The Nifty Shirtwaist Factory, including the sweet, obtuse, Dora go on strike. (Chelsea Cree Groen – endearing comedienne, good singer, lovely dancer.) In retaliation, their leader, Thea (Rebecca Brudner – beautiful voice, lyrical spoken Italian, winning actress), is arrested for solicitation by on-the-take cop Floyd (Dan Cassin, a little too duh.)
Beleaguered employees Neil (Michael Sullivan – fetching tenor), Morris (Matt McClean, who could make more of this), and Marie (a spirited Katie Barenboim) – secretly in love with her uber-ethical, scrappy boss, put up with long hours and erratic behavior because LaGuardia is “On the Side of the Angels.” Dora unwittingly falls for Floyd: “I Love a Cop” which almost has dire consequences.
Austin Scott Lombardi, Rebecca Brudner and The Company
We see “The Little Flower” (a translation of his name, not to mention diminutive height) campaign in Italian and Yiddish: (“The Name’s LaGuardia: L-A-G-U-A-R-D-I-A”), fall in love with what the audience may perceive as the wrong girl, go to war, lose the girl and an election to the flashy, shallow-sound familiar? “Gentleman Jimmy” (James J. Walker), then win on both those fronts.
As LaGuardia, Austin Scott Lombardi is earnest and attractive, but rather more a leading man than charismatic character type which is a bit disconcerting. Like the company’s youth, one simply has to let this go.
The show is warm, tuneful, charming, wry, and wise. You’ll have a good time.
Matt McLean and The Company
Director Bob Moss stages with great freshness and an eye to visuals. The large cast moves seamlessly from scene to scene as does furniture. Pacing is nimble. Small moments as when each soldier salutes his girl before boarding the ship and Thea singing the beautiful “When Did I Fall in Love,” wrapping herself in LaGuardia’s robe, add intimacy.
Evan Zavada’s Music Direction offers the illusion of an orchestra with only 2 pianos and a violin. Brendan F. Doyle’s Sound Design is utterly crisp. Deft Choreography by Michael Callahan ranges from graceful to rollicking.
The city is made up of group of miniature (about 5’), two dimensional buildings on which photography of actual structures has been printed. These are supplemented by tall, portable street signs so we know where we are. A montage of newspaper clippings from the period covers the floor. If you’re sitting up high enough, perusal is fun. Incidental furniture is well chosen. Love the switchboard. Carl Sprague’s Scenic Design is original and effective. Matthew E. Adelson’s Lighting is playfully colored or dappled in all the right places.
By the look of it, Costume Designer David Murin had a great time dressing the company, not the least because of variety (chorus girls to cops, immigrants to servicemen) and multiple changes rarely seen on a production of this scale. The stage looks swell.
IMPORTANT NOTE: It’s freezing in this theater. Bring a jacket or sweater.
Photography by Alexander Hill
Opening: Austin Scott Lombardi
Berkshire Theatre Group presents
Book- Jerome Weidman & George Abbott
Music- Jerry Bock
Lyrics- Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Bob Moss
Choreography- Michael Callahan
Music Direction- Evan Zavada
The East 13th Street Theater
136 East 13th Street
Through October 7, 2016