*The New Yorkers* at City Center, 3/22/17
I saw *The New Yorkers* at City Center on 3/22. It was presented by Encores!, a group that stages forgotten Broadway shows. This is a show from 1930 with songs by Cole Porter and a book by Herbert Fields, based on a story by E. Ray Goetz and Peter Arno. Arno was a brilliant cartoonist at The New Yorker magazine, so the title of the show is no accident that way - - it's about the whole New Yorker scene, it's like it stepped out of the magazine. The essay in the program said that the show is seen as an early example of cross-branding.
I really enjoyed it. The overture was the highlight of the show, I don't know that I've ever been able to say that before. The delicious orchestrations were by Josh Clayton and Larry Moore, who know their way around a 1930s dance band. The harp doing its glamorous bit, the saxophones in harmony, the strings swooping, an elderly gentleman deftly playing the bass, a less elderly gentleman strumming on the old banjo.
I'll give you the briefest sketch of the plot: a society girl meets a bootlegger at his speakeasy and the two of them fall in love. The first scene takes place in the club - - her father shows up with his young floozy girlfriend, followed by his wife with her young stud boyfriend. The stud says, "What is your husband doing with that girl?" and the wife says, "There comes a time in a man's life when he has to pay a girl $50." Oh, did I laugh.
The first number, "Go to your dance," started off well enough, Mylinda Hull was the nightclub chanteuse and she sang and danced with style. But then it turned into a big production number and choreographer Chris Bailey just kept piling shit onto the stage: apricot chorines doing the shimmy, tall slim young men in tuxes holding fuchsia chairs aloft, the chanteuse howling full tilt, and the Andrews Sisters over on the side. This is what I call the Grodie Stew method of staging: my Aunt Karen used to clean out the fridge, use up all the leftovers, add a few new things and some daring spices and call it dinner. Her kids (the acerbic Heidi and Kent) called this Grodie Stew.
Tam Mutu was the bootlegger. He has a nice voice, he's good looking, can dance a little, he was fine. Ruth Williamson was the leading lady's mother, she was funny, sort of a Charlotte Greenwood type (I wonder if Williamson would be thrilled or mortified if she heard I described her that way). Kevin Chamberlin played the Jimmy Durante role, and he was working really hard up there, but it really only works for Jimmy Durante.
Cyrille Aimée sang the best-known song from the show, "Love for sale." Here's Annie Ross singing it - - the way she sings the word "smirk" at 0:43 is one of the highlights of recorded music:
I don't know how this is possible, but in Aimée's performance of the song, she overplayed underplaying. It was kind of fascinating. But I didn't like it.
Scartlett Strallen was the leading lady. I liked her dancing much more than her singing. The producers of the show had to fill it out a bit, so they bussed in numbers from surrounding Porter shows - - she sang "Night and day" and it went like this:
NIGHT and DAY
YOU are the one
Only YOU beneath the MOON
And UNDER the SUN
It was tiresome. She did a better job with the last song in the show, "I happen to like New York." Here's the one and only Bobby Short doing the song at the Cafe Carlyle:
That song, in a sense, was the inspiration behind this revival: Encores! did a concert a few weeks after 9/11 and Donna Murphy sang that song and brought down the house. The artistic director of Encores! made a note of that and wondered about the show it came from. And there you are.