Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Barry Day O.B.E., the Artistic Director of The Noel Coward Foundation and editor of this musical, calls it a “love song to London – a sort of post-war sequel to This Happy Breed in which Londoners pick up the pieces of their lives and cheerfully put them back together, as if nothing had happened.” The piece is an uncomplicated love story reflecting traditional values, pluck, and optimism. While some songs are pleasant though unmemorable, the musical also features iconic numbers Coward later used elsewhere including “Sail Away,” “Chase Me Charlie,” “I Like America,” and “London Pride.”
Marci Reid, Ian Mcdonald
We open and close in the Covent Garden market with vendors hawking their wares in song. Capper (Ian Mcdonald in a yeoman-like job) and Barmey Flo (Marci Reid who’s fine here, but seems anything but barmey) greet Pinkie (Katrina Michaels), whose view on the beautiful weather indicates Spring is in the air. It’s the young woman’s day off. When well dressed Julian (a credible Conor M. Hamlin with a nice voice) buys roses “a lot of them” to celebrate his first week of marriage, Pinkie grows starry-eyed. As if on cue, Harry (Johnny Wilson) appears. The sailor wastes no time. “Who are you, cause you’re very pretty and I’ve got 24 hours leave.”
Katrina Michaels, Johnny Wilson
Despite his being cheeky, Pinkie perceives the stranger is sweet and honest (as do we in appreciation of Wilson’s naturalistic acting) and takes him home to meet the folks before spending the day. Dad Charlie (Tom Gamblin who makes a warm, believable parent) and mom Fanny (Deb Cardona) understand “There’s Something About a Sailor”…nobody’s able to define…The duo sing well together, the number is deftly directed. (Later, we see Fanny, an ex-actress, perform a flirty “Chase Me Charlie,” one of the music hall songs in her repertoire. Cardona is charming.)
Also in the family are brother Alfie (Josh Bardier whose rubber face and long legs remind one of Jules Munchin) and sister Doreen (Kaitlyn Frotton, a graceful dancer, good actress and, I suspect from what little we heard, a fine singer).
Kaitlyn Frotton, Tom Gamblin, Den Cardona, Josh Bardier
Pinkie and Harry begin at Buckingham Palace. “Three Theatrical Dames”: Tom Gamblin, Ian Mcdonald, Marcia Reid (note two bearded men and one woman) are just leaving. This song can be very funny. It misses the mark here.
The couple then encounter Julian (in his military uniform – there to be decorated by the Queen) and his new wife, Linda (Oakley Boycott who appears upper class and sings with warmth). Julian recognizes Pinkie from the flower stand. Feeling happy and open, the well healed newlyweds invite the youngsters to a posh party that night. Pinkie can’t wait, but Harry is sure they’ll be out of place. An argument ensues. They part.
Oakley Boycott, Conor M. Hamill
Act II is a bit overstuffed with songs, but entertaining. You can guess the rest of the story. The lovers reunite and go to the party, Pinkie glorying in one of her mom’s old costumes. They pledge to one another. Finale.
Katrina Michaels makes a fine Pinkie, bright, cute (not cutsie) and self-reliant. The actress manages just the right tenor in this clearly period piece.
Tonight’s find is Johnny Wilson (Harry). The attractive Wilson is thoroughly engaging. He moves and sings with skill and an earnest ardor that carries the story ingenuously forward.
Director/Choreographer Mindy Cooper uses the theater well, aisles and balcony inclusive, creates attractive tableaus (clearly a signature), and affects a light, stylized (wink, wink) touch befitting the piece. Her characters could be more unique, but the show is not harmed.
Tristan Raines does an excellent job with period costumes that suit each character and excels at an eventual fancy dress party.
Photos by Michael Portantiere
Opening: Conor M. Hamill, Oakley Boycott, Johnny Wilson, Katrina Michaels
Musicals Tonight presents The World Premiere of Hoi Polloi Libretto, Music, & Lyrics by Noel Coward Edited by Barry Day O.B.E. Directed and Choreographed by Mindy Cooper Music Director/Vocal Arranger David B. Bishop Through November 13, 2016 Musicals Tonight! NEXT: Louisiana Purchase-music and lyrics by Irving Berlin; book by Morrie Ryskind February 28-March 12 2017
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 Funny Face
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
Barry Day OBE, Literary Advisor to The Noel Coward Society, Author, and Truffle Hound for all things Coward, serendipitously got involved with the estate when he was an advertising executive. Vacationing with his wife on the north coast of Jamaica, he suggested they visit Firefly, Coward’s mountain top retreat. He expected to see a palatial estate. Instead, Day found a dilapidated bungalow, much of it open to the elements.
“It was a shambles, original books damp and rotting, the piano in terrible shape…” The so-called caretaker, Miguel, offered anything for sale. “I was appalled.” Back in London, Day contacted the estate. The legatee was Coward’s former partner, Graham Payn. “I wrote, How the hell can you let this happen?! This is one of the greatest Englishmen in the arts-ever.”
“Graham responded, You have to understand. He left me the house. I haven’t got the heart to go back there, so I gifted the house to the Jamaican government to whom I send money.” Funds were clearly not used the way Payn intended. “What,” asked Day, “can we do?” He suggested aggressively lobbying the Jamaican government into repairing and maintaining the place, met with Payn in Switzerland and got involved. (Later, Day co-wrote Payn’s autobiography.)
Boxes and boxes of materials and first editions were gradually made available. To date, Day has written 12 books on Noel Coward and adapted a good many of his plays. “As the years go by, I’ve been trying to find what we haven’t used.”
Hoi Polloi (hoi pol·loi- the masses, common people)
Until 1945, Noel Coward enjoyed immense popularity. When the war ended, in light of continued austerity and rationing however, people felt they didn’t want to be reminded of the class consciousness of the 1930s. Having reinvented himself as one of the elite, fraternizing with the rich and titled, the part of Coward’s work that came readily to mind were light pieces depicting frivolous, leisure class people.
Curiously, audiences did not take into account such as Cavalcade, which followed the middle class Marryot family from 1900 to 1929 or This Happy Breed, observation of the working class Gibbons family between the end of World War I and the outbreak of World War II.
Hoi Polloi (1949) was the first piece Coward wrote after VE Day and something of an effort to show his sincere sympathy for the lower classes. It centers on a sailor with 24 hour leave who comes to London and meets Pinkie, the daughter of a grocer. They spend the day together and she takes him home to the family. Pinkie’s mother used to be on the music hall stage as Florence Follette, “a knock-out who never got to the West End.” She sings her signature number “Chase Me Charlie” (Over the Garden Wall.) Other undoubtedly familiar songs in the musical include “Sail Away,” “I Like America,” and “London Pride.” (When Coward stopped working on a musical, he often moved its better numbers elsewhere.)
The story of “London Pride” is that meeting someone at a bombed out station after a particularly bad blitz, Coward observed a little flower growing up between cracks in the pavement. Moved, he saw the defiant bloom as a key attribute of the British. “In times of stress, we get on with it,” Day explains. Then Coward recalled the flower’s name, London Pride. The song became a second national anthem during the war.
Outside Buckingham Palace, Pinky and her date find themselves talking to a decorated RAF Commander and his wife who invite them to a posh party that evening. The sailor would rather be alone with his new girl, but agrees to go. They have a good time. His leave is over, but he’ll see her weekends and they’ll get married. Of course.
Day tells me the musical offers perspective on a working class family by someone (a sailor) from outside the city and reflects the British people putting their lives back together. “It’s modest, but it’s classic Coward and fills a gap most people don’t know existed.”
Apparently, Coward felt Hoi Polloi was not sufficiently up-to-date and wrote a second version that made Pinky a singer in a dodgy cabaret called Ace of Clubs run by gangsters. The writer tried to depict a sleazy London he simply didn’t understand. This one was produced and ran-briefly. “Ironically, a year later in New York, he goes to see Guys and Dolls and realizes that’s how it should’ve been done.”
When Barry Day disinterred and adapted Hoi Polloi, he thought of Mel Miller’s venerable theater, Musicals Tonight which had presented two of Coward’s other shows. It will premiere at The Lion Theater November 1-13. A must at least for Coward fans, the piece will take us back to gentler and frankly pluckier times. Sounds like entertaining respite to me.
Photos and Drawing of Noel Coward and Original Show Music Courtesy of The Noel Coward Society