What a joy it is to live in near the good people at Encores! As readers of this column know, Encores! is dedicated to recreating vintage musicals that have not seen the light of day for decades. The team, led by Jack Viertel, resurrect book, orchestrations and choreography of these lost treasures, and the result is often nothing less than magical.
That alchemy was in evidence this week when the team recreated Lady, Be Good, with score and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, and a book by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson. The original Broadway production opened in 1924 – a 90 year old musical! – and starred the team of Fred and Adele Astaire.
The story is gossamer thin – brother and sister Dick and Susie Trevor are evicted, leaving them on their bed in the street. In order to eat (and find a rich wife for Dick), they crash the garden party of socialite Jo Vanderwater; however, Dick really loves Shirley Vernon and wonders if he can sell his affections for money.
Meanwhile, Susie meets a charismatic hobo back from Mexico, who may (or may not) be heir to a fortune. Add to that a scheming lawyer, mistaken identity and comic hijinks both high and low, and you have the makings for one of the first Broadway musical comedies.
Where to begin? The cast that Encores! has managed to gather is marvelous. Danny Gardner and Patti Murin star in the roles originated by the Astaires, and they consistently hit just the right note of light screwball musicality. They open the show with the delightful Hang On To Me, a song that has fallen into some undeserved obscurity, but is quite special in its lilting beauty. Also terrific is their syncopated number, Swiss Miss, which guys everything Swiss, from chocolates to cheese. (Good thing the Swiss are not currently protected by the P.C. police…)
Jeff Hiller and Kirsten Wyatt shine incandescently in the supporting comedy roles, and sell We’re Here Because in a manner to bring down the house. Watch for both Hiller and Wyatt in the future … they are meant for great things.
Douglas Sills has the plum role of shyster lawyer J. Watterson Watkins. Sills – his slick 1930s handsomeness working to good effect – has a wonderful voice and superb comic timing. The Encores! performances are really staged readings, and Sills manages to milk the necessity of holding bound copies of the play’s book for maximum laughs. He nearly walks away with the show tucked neatly in his jacket pocket, along with his showy pocket square.
Colin Donnell shines as Jack Robinson (yes, that’s the name), the hobo who may also be an heir. A sweet-voiced juvenile, he shows to great effect both musically and comically. His duet with Patti Murin, So Am I, is a charmer.
Special mention must be made of Broadway legend Tommy Tune, in a special cameo as the Professor. In a medley of rich, primary colored costumes, the leggy Mr. Tune comes onstage whenever the plot needs a lift – age has not withered Tune, and his smiling interruptions are great fun. Even today, Tune radiates good cheer.
Rob Fisher is the guest conductor of this edition of Encores! and Lady, Be Good was directed with a deft and light touch by Mark Brokaw.
As always with Encores!, the show is open only a brief time. The last performance of Lady, Be Good is February 8. Buy, steal or beg a ticket – it’s not to be missed.