Richard and our friend Susan and I saw this show at City Center on 2/6, as part of their Encores! series. This is the same group that brought us *The Band Wagon* last fall. It's a Gershwin musical from 1924, the same year George wrote *Rhapsody in Blue* - - it has two famous songs in it, the title song and "Fascinating rhythm".
It's the frothiest confection of a musical - - the story barely supports the numbers, it was kind of a head-scratcher that way. You see this show and you understand why *Show Boat* had to be invented. It's like the Gershwin brothers said to the book writers, Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson, "Guys, we've got this cute yodeling number, you think you could work that in somehow?", and Bolton and Thompson said, "Sure!" Richard said about the show in general, "It was cute and fun, but it was stupid." I said, "I wouldn't call it stupid - - I would call it dippy."
The show was written for Fred and Adele Astaire, so it's no accident that the main characters are a brother and sister. This production starred Danny Gardner and Patti Murin, who both sang well and danced up a storm, both with the perfect style for the time. This is a bugaboo of mine - - remember the jazz singer on the last season of *Downton Abbey*? He drove me up the wall, he sang Cole Porter with absolutely no sense of the style. These two nailed it, and were cute and charming. The other stand-out in the cast was Kirsten Wyatt as the wacky comedy girl. She was adorable and hilarious, I'd like to see her in a bigger role next time.
The real draw, apart from the show itself, was Tommy Tune in the role of The Professor. He only did two numbers and I kinda got the feeling that they created the character and dropped him into this show because he wanted to do it. Hey, he was the best thing in it! I've been a fan of Tune since sometime around 1984, when my good friend Derek Long gave me a cassette tape (remember those?) of the cast recording of *My One and Only*, the Gershwin show that Tune was doing with Twiggy on Broadway at the time. I went gaga for him, loved his singing, and grabbed every chance I could to see him on TV (sadly, only a handful of times). He's 6 foot 6, but seems taller, and uses his lanky frame for all it's worth. He's one of the most celebrated tap dancers in history, and I was very excited to get to see him onstage.
He's 75 now. Encores! made a video of him and the chorus rehearsing "Fascinating rhythm" and I got the feeling that he was being a little cautious, or the choreography had been dumbed down for everyone to suit his current abilities. Well, that sure didn't seem the case in the show - - maybe they'd ramped up the choreography, maybe it was just the magic of the theatre, but it was a complete delight. He really knows what he's doing, was greatly helped by his bright red suit and matching shoes - - and the audience went coo coo nutty for him. It was touching, and brought more than one tear to my eye.
But something funny happened in "Fascinating rhythm" - - first off, when he started his tap solo, it felt to me like he was trying to push the tempo faster just a tiny bit, and the conductor was having none of it. This always makes me very uneasy, as an audience member. Then the chorus came in and there were a few moments where it seemed that the dancing wasn't in synch with the music. I don't know this kind of thing well enough to know if the fault is in the dancers, in the conductor, or in the choreography, but again, it made me uneasy. They DID get back on track, and the highlight of the number was the sequence near the end when they were dancing to no music at all. Which might say something?
Another high point of the show: Encores! always does their shows with the original full orchestrations, when available, and this orchestra had two pianists, at grand pianos facing each other. It was like Ferrante and Teicher brought back to life! They had a solo spot near the end of the first act - - no performers onstage, no accompaniment from the orchestra, doing a dazzling two-piano arrangement of "Fascinating rhythm". It would be great to have this confirmed, but it sounded to me like a Gershwin piano roll. George himself "recorded" quite a of his songs for player piano. This two piano solo was thrilling, not least because you could really feel the audience listening. Which doesn't happen too often at a Broadway musical.
Tune came back in the second act, in an electric blue suit this time, and did "A little jazz bird", a song he and Twiggy did in *My One and Only*. Again, I was a mess.