by: Sandi Durell
Want to walk out of the theatre singing and humming just about every song, smiling and happy? Then this one’s for you! Tony Award winner Joe DiPietro has written the book to this compilation of Gershwin tunes, partially comprised and inspired from the 1926 musical “Oh Kay!” (Bolton/Wodehouse). Kathleen Marshall, director-choreographer, has done her magic, as she did with the musical “Anything Goes,” constructing this glamorous, glitzy jazz-age Prohibitionspectacular with her usual aplomb.
This is pure unadulterated fluff and, as an audience, you can’t help but love it. Rich playboy Jimmy Winter (Matthew Broderick) is about to marry his 4th wife, modern dancer Eileen Evergreen (Jennifer Laura Thompson), whose father happens to be a Senator (Terry Beaver). Drunk from his night outing at a local speakeasy, he meets bootlegger Billie Bendix (Kelli O’Hara) who is hiding from the cops with her band of crooks trying to figure out where to hide the stash (hootch). She lifts his wallet and, in his drunken stupor, he lets her know he’s got this big mansion on Long Island that nobody ever uses. Light bulb!
What’s delicious is hearing Gershwin gems “Sweet and Lowdown,“ “They All Laughed,” a rifle-carrying O’Hara singing “Someone To Watch Over Me,” a singing-dancing Broderick and O’Hara tripping the light fantastic in “S’Wonderful” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It” (Fred & Ginger style up the stairs, on a table), the tongue-in-cheek humor of a deadpan Broderick who still looks boyish and the glorious voice of O’Hara. Although Mr. Broderick isn’t Fred, or anything close, or Ms. O’Hara, with her exceptional voice, seems somewhat awkward as a tough talkin’ bootlegger or sexy chick, somehow they quickly endear themselves in this musical comedy.
Most of the action unfolds in the mansion where Billie’s buddies Cookie McGee (you gotta love ‘em, Michael McGrath) and Duke Mahoney (teddy bear Chris Sullivan), take on the roles as butler and cook to throw off the cops and Jimmy. Duke falls for one of the chorus girls Jeannie Muldoon (Robyn Hurder) who becomes especially interested when she thinks this Duke may go on to one day become a King – – – of England!
Meantime, playboy Jimmy’s many girls come a-callin’ and there’s a glamorous bathroom scene in which Eileen, readying herself for her wedding night with Jimmy, takes a 4 hour bath in “Delishious” while the Bubble Girls and Boys pop out of the bathtub in song and dance. The costumes are lavish and lovely (thanks to Martin Pakledinaz) and the inside and out of the manse is Derek McLane opulent, aided by Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting design. It’s a visual joy throughout.
Highlights include the always remarkable Judy Kaye as the prim prohibition crazed Duchess Estonia Dulworth, who winds up not so prim and swinging from a chandelier, but first manages “By Strauss,” and Estelle Parsons as Jimmy’s Mother, who makes an 11th hour appearance revealing some other best kept secrets.
Photo: Joan Marcus