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
For its 90th revival, Musicals Tonight! chose 1953’s Wonderful Town, originally starring Edie Adams and Rosalind Russell. The Tony Award winning show was based on its librettists (Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov) 1940 play, My Sister Eileen, which, in turn, derived from Ruth McKenney’s New Yorker stories and book.
Savannah Frazier as Eileen
This lively production features the talents of Director Evan Pappas, whose keen eye for character turns and aesthetic arrangements even when his cast just poses, serve to entertain and enhance, and Choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo, whose work is buoyant. It also features an unusual cavalcade of good actors having fun with smaller roles.
Pretty, innocent, man-magnet Eileen (Savannah Frazier) and her smart, cynical, older sister Ruth (Elizabeth Broadhurst) have come to New York City from small town Ohio in search of fame and fortune, or at least lives where everyone doesn’t know everyone else’s business. Eileen dreams of becoming an actress, Ruth of earning her way as writer.
Savannah Frazier as Eileen, Elizabeth Broadhurst as Ruth, Javid J. Weins as Wreck, Jillian Gottlieb as Helen
The girls make a beeline for Greenwich Village where everyone knows artists live cheaply. Exhausted, they’re ambushed by a landlord named Appopolous (Perry Lambert, with deft accent and comic timing) who knows rubes when he sees them. He talks them into a tiny basement apartment with a window on the street. Within minutes, an explosion rocks the room- subway construction is going on beneath, but only, they’re assured, from 6am to midnight. (Sound effects are terrific.) Why, oh why, oh why, oh –why did I ever leave Ohio?…they sing.
When a stranger strolls in assuming the apartment is still inhabited by a prostitute, their neighbor, “Wreck” aka Ed Loomis (David J. Wiens) comes to the rescue. An ex-college football hero, the young man is sweet and simple. His girl, Helen (Jillian Gottlieb) timidly hides their relationship from her judgmental mother, Mrs. Wade (Leslie Alexander), at one point going so far as to board Wreck in the girls’ kitchen overnight.
Wonderful casting pairs the substantial Weins and tiny Gottlieb to best advantage. Moving her aside by absently lifting and repositioning her is directorial candy. Weins handles “Pass the Football” with dumb, wistful skill. Gottlieb manifests a perfect mouse-voice and kind of apt, fluttery presence.
James Donegan as Bob; Paul Binotto as Speedy and Perry Lambert as Appopolous
While Eileen strikes out at multiple auditions, she attracts both wholesome Walgreen’s manager, Frank (Ian Lowe) who gives her free lunches and heat-seeking, sleazeball newspaper reporter Chick (Leland Burnett), who promises to tell his editor about Ruth. Both are inadvertently invited to dinner the same night. Lowe is credibly low key and likeable in a role that might otherwise disappear. Burnett is oily from dialogue to body language, adding interest to his character.
Meanwhile, Ruth is summarily rejected until she encounters Bob (James Donegan), an editor on The Mad Hatter magazine (aka The New Yorker) who, recognizing his younger self, reads her dreadful stories. (Enactment of these is alas, a weaker segment.) Bob comes looking for the discouraged Ruth and is also invited to potluck by Eileen. In the well paced “Conversation Piece,” table chat is stilted, ulterior motives clash.
James Donegan is not only an attractive actor with a warm, appealing voice, but sympathetic in a role which is sometimes a placeholder. His reading of Ruth’s stories aloud has just the right restrained, but incredulous tone. I’d be interested in seeing this thespian in a straight play.
James Donegan as Bob, Savannah Frazier as Eileen, Leland Burnett as Chick, Elizabeth Broadhurst as Ruth, Ian Lowe as Frank
Ruth inadvertently gets herself involved with a bunch of South American sailors who love the “Conga.” (Choreography is fun, though opportunity was missed in not snaking down the otherwise well employed theater aisle.) When Eileen tries to help, she gets arrested and ends up captivating the police department who serenade her with “My Darlin’ Eileen.” Joshua Downs portrays the station captain with genial charm, Irish lilt, and a pleasing vocal.
Eileen also lands on the front page of a newspaper which secures her employment as an entertainer by Club Vortex owner, Speedy Valente (Paul Binotto, an amusing, come-to-life cartoon.) “Ballet at The Village Vortex” offers infectious choreography. Needless to say, everyone is paired up and employed by the end.
Savannah Frazier as Eileen, Elizabeth Broadhurst as Ruth
It’s the journey that counts. Take it. The musical itself is a romp and there are so many unexpectedly nifty moments, I found myself smiling almost throughout the whole piece.
I imagine Eileen a bit more naïve than depicted, but Savannah Frazier has a simply lovely voice and settling in, enchants more than just the men on stage. Asking the police to fetch and carry for her, Frazier morphs into the girl who blithely takes this for granted.
Elizabeth Broadhurst (Ruth) does a yeoman-like job, but never quite gets Ruth’s caustic fatalism. Helpless moments with the sailors are effective as are earnest speeches about her writing and concern for her sister.
Also featuring: Brekken Baker, Abby Hart, Allyson Tolbert, Piera Calabro
Photos by Michael Portantiere
Opening: Eric Shorey (also an engaging tour guide at the show’s top), Neville Braithwaite, Ryan Rhue, Dallas Padoven, Elizabeth Broadhurst as Ruth, Isaac Matthews
Musicals Tonight! presents
Libretto- Joseph Fields/Jerome Chodorov
Lyrics- Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Directed by Evan Pappas
Choreographed by Antoinette DiPietropolo
Music Director/Vocal Arranger-James Stenborg
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42 Street
Through April 17, 2016
Come back in October for next season’s first production Funny Face by George and Ira Gershwin