The plot of George and Ira Gershwins’ 1927 show Funny Face bears no resemblance to that of the subsequent Fred Astaire/Audrey Hepburn film which centered on the sophisticated world of fashion. Originally, the musical was (and is) a romantic comedy featuring: Jimmy Reeve ( Patrick Graver) a young, wealthy man and his three attractive wards – Frankie (Jessica Ernest)- a ditsy blonde who congenitally lies, June (Whitney Winfield)- a sweet young woman impatiently waiting for Jimmy to propose, and Dora (Caitlin Wilayto), a comedienne type aggressively searching for a husband, the guardian’s best friend- Dugsie (Blake Spellacy), Peter (Seth Danner)- a handsome aviator who get caught up in misrepresented robbery, two bungling burglars (Herbert-Edward Tolve and Chester- Bill Bateman), impersonations, and a company of dancing/singing flappers with jaunty swains.
Caitlin Wilayto, Patrick Graver, Whitney Winfield
Producer and Creator of Musicals Tonight, Mel Miller, and his cohorts have put together a buoyant version of the piece helmed by Director/Choreographer Casey Colgan of whom I am now a serious fan. Having been loyal to this organization for a great many years, I’ve watched valuable presentations of rarely revived musicals get better and better, despite short rehearsal time, minimal trappings, and shoestring budget. With this production, the organization has reached a new high.
Opening at Jimmy Reeve’s birthday party, we see a line of long-limbed chorus girls who not only dance up a storm but kick like Rockettes. Watch that fringe fly! The boys are equally swell, not only partnering, but at one point ebulliently executing acrobatics. We’re treated to Charlestons, Waltzes, and Tap. Everyone is cute without being saccharine. This is a cohesive company accurately representing a period show while having an infectiously good time.
Seth Danner, Blake Spellacy
Songs like “Funny Face,” “S’Wonderful,” “He Loves and She Loves,” and “How Long Has This Been Going On?” are just a of few of the iconic numbers here. Vocal arrangement is excellent. Choreography is lively, attractive, fresh and perfectly suited to the small stage. I wish I could tell you to immediately secure tickets, but unfortunately I saw the piece at the end of its run. This review is partly for the record, partly to acknowledge fine work, and partly to make you more aware of the blooming Musicals Tonight.
Caitlin Wilayto and Blake Spellacy; Jessica Ernest and Seth Danner
Patrick Graver and Jessica Ernest as Jimmy and Frankie are dancers in song and dance roles. Both entertain tilting towards the former at which they’re thoroughly appealing. Ernest emulates her dizzy character with modest brio.
Caitlin Wilayto (Dora) and Whitney Winfield (June) are well cast. Wilayto has good comic timing and manages to be engagingly quirky without veering towards trite. Winfield has a superb voice and genuine presence.
Whitney Winfield and Patrick Graver
Seth Danner (Peter) and Blake Spellacy (Dugsie) are both skilled male ingénues. They sing, dance, and relate with natural charm. Spellacy reminds me of song and dance man Gene Nelson (check out such as the film Oklahoma!) – a high compliment.
As Maladroit burglars, Edward Tolve and Bill Bateman – the former especially – are amusing in their roles and excel at “The Babbitt and The Bromide.” Though the nifty vaudeville number has nothing to do with this story, it’s a hoot. Relevance might be easily supplied by a line or two of dialogue indicating the burglars are hiding from cops by substituting for the resort’s headliners.
Also featuring Doug Jabara who comically does what he can as the Sergeant.
Costumes. Wigs, and footwear, apparently acquired and ostensibly overseen by Casey Colgan are flat out terrific, especially the colorful, plaid suits for The Babbitt and The Bromide which it pains me not to be able to show you.
Bravo Resident Casting Director Holly Buczek.
Photos by Michael Portantiere
Opening Left to Right: Christian Brown, Kacie Burns, Caleb Dicke, Giulia Dunes, Kyle White, Briana Fallon, Parker Krug, Andrea Weinzierl
Musicals Tonight presents
Music by George Gershwin; Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Libretto- Fred Thompson & Paul Gerard Smith
Directed and Choreographed by Casey Colgan
Music Director/Vocal Arranger-James Stenborg
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
NEXT: The world premiere of Hoi Polloi by Noel Coward-November 1-13
Musicals Tonight website
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