Review: ‘Never Gonna Dance’

Review: `Double Feature’ at New York City Ballet

Corrections or additions?

These reviews by Simon Saltzman and Barbara Fox were prepared for

the February 4, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights

reserved.

Review: ‘Wonderful Town’

Broadway is sparked with one terrific revival of a 51-year-old stage

musical and a charming new musical based on a 67-year-old musical

film. They are "Wonderful Town" and "Never Gonna Dance," respectively.

And both offer delightful musical entertainment.

Broadway had to wait more than three years to see Tony Award-winner

(for both "Passion" and "The King and I") Donna Murphy as Ruth in

"Wonderful Town." Hers is the dazzling performance that had audiences

cheering at the City Center Encore Series. Ruth is the role that once

gave Rosalind Russell’s career a huge boost (despite the fact that she

wasn’t much of singer). Murphy is not only a terrific singer, but she

doesn’t miss one single – mostly sardonic – comic beat.

Just as "Chicago" was lifted from the same, barebones City Center

series (five performances only) and planted firmly on Broadway,

"Wonderful Town" has followed the same route and is also notable for

its minimalist staging. But the producers have given the 1953 musical

by Leonard Bernstein (music), Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics),

Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov (book), just enough additional

trappings to turn the show into a smart and stylish Broadway

production. The musical is based on the play "My Sister Eileen," by

Fields and Chodorov, and the short stories by Ruth McKenney.

Under the direction of Kathleen Marshall (also the choreographer),

"Wonderful Town" has evolved from City Center into a fully-designed

show. Led by Rob Fisher, 26 musicians (a generous number you don’t see

very often on Broadway) are perched right up on the stage for all to

see and hear. It’s a pleasure to experience the full glory of Don

Walker’s original orchestrations, especially since we have been

getting accustomed to the sound of electronic keyboards and only a

handful of musicians sunk in the pit. This doesn’t mean that scenery

(handsomely designed by John Lee Beatty) is eliminated, but rather

that it is created to be just delicately indicative as sets gracefully

fly up and down and glide back and forth in front of the musicians.

If Bernstein’s vibrant score suggests the energy and pulse of New York

like no other (with the exception of his previous show "On The Town"),

"Wonderful Town" wholeheartedly embraces the score while making you

feel good about its denizens, and particularly Ruth Sherwood (Murphy)

and her sister Eileen (Jennifer Westfeldt), who remain now and forever

rapturously concerned with finding a meal and a male.

"Why-o, why-o, Why-o, why did I ever leave Ohio?" the two

Midwesterners sing as they try to adjust to their basement apartment

on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. It’s 1935 and the

neighborhood is enlivened by Bohemian artists, dancers, and writers,

all of whom are sent whirling through Marshall’s witty, although

understandably confined, patterns. Best of all is the "Conga," in

which Ruth leads a group of Brazilian sailors through the streets. At

the performance I attended, audiences members were moved to conga as

they exited up the aisle.

Notwithstanding the naivete of the two principal characters, or the

plot that follows the distinct and true path from loneliness and

despair to success and love, "Wonderful Town" is nothing more than a

series of humorously conceived misadventures following Ruth’s attempt

to get a job as a writer and Eileen’s flirtations while looking work

in the theater. Those who saw Edie Adams as the unforgettably demure

and sparkling Eileen in the original production may find Westfeldt, in

her Broadway debut, lacking a bit of warmth. Yet she comes through

with a bright and winning performance and sings the plaintive "A

Little Bit in Love" beautifully.

There is excellent support from Gregg Edelman, as the all-business

editor who finally melts, Nancy Anderson and Raymond Jarmillo McLeous

as the unmarried (shocking at the time) couple living in the next

apartment, David Margulies as the landlord cum artist, and Peter

Benson as the come-a-courting Woolworth’s soda jerk. Despite a score

that includes "The Wrong Note Rag," there is not one wrong note in

this entire show. HHH

– Simon Saltzman

Wonderful Town, Al Hirschfeld Theater, 302 West 45th Street, New York.

Tele-Charge, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.

Top Of Page
Review: ‘Never Gonna Dance’

Just as "Wonderful Town" fantasizes about life in the big city during

the mid-1930s, so does a new musical "Never Gonna Dance," that recalls

those films and shows about talented hoofers from Hicksville who came

to New York looking for romance, happiness, and a good hard floor to

tap dance on, all the while finding time to sing wonderful songs and

make it big before the finale. "Never Gonna Dance" is based on the

Fred Astaire & Ginger Rodgers 1937 film musical "Swing Time." It

boasts a melodic score with more than its share of classic standards

by Jerome Kern taken from the film as well as from other Kern scores.

The show has the advantage of having two young performers – Noah Racey

and Nancy Lemenager – coming as close as possible to emulating the

Astaire/Rodgers style. Choreographer Jerry Mitchell has devised some

intricate and lengthy original dance numbers (without mimicking the

Astaire/Rodgers routines) designed to show off the tall and slim

Racey’s graceful skill and technique, as poor, born-to-dance Lucky

Garnett. Lemenager is no sassy perky Rodgers, and her character as

rewritten is a bit bland, but she holds her own sweetly in this

singing and dancing partnership.

The silliness of the plot hardly matters. Garnett’s wedding to a

wealthy Pennsylvania socialite is stopped by her father until Lucky

finds a real job in the city and earns $25,000. Shades of "The Red

Shoes," Garnett can’t seem to stop dancing since everything in the

city has a beat. Sparks fly when he meets Penny (Lemenager), a dance

instructor, and promptly decides not to pursue the $25,000. But Lucky

is lucky with money. This, despite the fact that his new friend

Morgenthal (Peter Gerety), a former stockbroker now a tramp, is

recklessly investing Lucky’s money. Lucy and Penny are soon rehearsing

for an amateur dance contest and you can guess where that leads.

Karen Ziemba provides real star quality and a vivid personality in her

supporting role as Mabel, Penny’s wise-cracking pal. Peter Bartlett

gets plenty of laughs as Pangborn, Penny’s flamboyant boss. Even if

the magic created by Astaire and Rodgers cannot be duplicated, the

book by Jeffrey Hatcher is remarkably true in spirit to the brittle

and bracing humor that sparked the team’s films. Michael Grief’s

direction is on target as are the retro modern settings by Robin

Wagner and the shimmering costumes by William Ivey Long. Dancing its

way from Grand Central Station to the top of an unfinished skyscraper

to such songs as "The Song is You," "I’ll Be Hard to Handle," "The Way

You Look Tonight" and "I Won’t Dance," "Never Gonna Dance" comes very

close to being a perfect Valentine. HHH

– Simon Saltzman

Never Gonna Dance, Broadhurst Theater, 235 West 44th Street, New York.

Tele-Charge, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. Closes February 15.

Unless otherwise noted, all Broadway reservations can be made through

Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. For TicketMaster listings

call 800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.

Top Of Page
Review: `Double Feature’ at New York City Ballet

Choreographer Susan Stroman’s Broadway hit "Contact" delivered more

dancing and fewer words than one would expect on Broadway; it was a

groundbreaking success and a Tony winner. Now her evening-length

ballet, "Double Feature," which premiered at the New York State

Theater last weekend, has more words and less dancing than is usual

for the New York City Ballet, but it is an equal success. To Stroman’s

dance drama, the NYCB dancers add socko technique, and fabulous

production values. Commissioned by NYCB as part of its year-long

celebration of the centennial of George Balanchine’s birth, "Double

Feature" plays Wednesday and Thursday, February 4 and 5, at 8 p.m.

Tickets are scarce, but call 212-307-4100.

Stroman used Berlin’s tunes (from "Alexander’s Ragtime Band" to "How

Deep is the Ocean") for a three-hanky melodrama, the Cinderella story

told silent movie style, with captions, mime, and dancing. In "The

Blue Necklace," Mabel must find – not a prince – but her real mother,

a dancer/movie star.

Stroman doesn’t tell anything with a straight face, yet she somehow

manages to give the flattest of cardboard characters a smidgen of

distinctive movement that makes them almost believable. Kyra Nichols –

an NYCB principal dancer now affiliated with Princeton Ballet School –

has the plum role of the stepmother. At first impoverished, Nichols

manages to evoke some sympathy when her husband comes home with a

foundling girl. Then, greedy, she is a caustic foil to the spunky and

sweet Mabel, affectingly danced by the young Tara Sorine and then by a

company dancer, Ashley Bouder.

The second act, "Makin Whoopee," to such Walter Donaldson tunes as

"Love Me or Leave Me" and "My Blue Heaven," is a total madcap

scramble, complete with chase scenes, pratfalls, and a performing dog.

Tom Long has a once-in-a-career role as an endearing Buster Keaton

style anti-hero who must marry immediately in order to inherit $7

million and save his law partners from being bumped off. The men in

the chorus have a once-in-their-lifetime opportunity – I never thought

I’d see the day – to dress up in bridal gowns in a frantic effort to

woo Long. The way Stroman does it, it’s a hoot. And boy does the

orchestra have fun.

– Barbara Fox

Double Feature, New York City Ballet, New York State Theater, Lincoln

Center, Columbus Avenue at 63rd, New York, 212-307-4100.

www.nycballet.com.


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