By Sandi Durell
Take a step back in time and, as we all know, history repeats itself, both good and bad. If only our politicians could learn from Fiorello H. LaGuardia, it would save so much grief because they’d all be on the side of the angels!
The charming Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick revival (book by Jerome Weidman/George Abbott) that began as a regional summer musical from the Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG), has now grown to an off-Broadway delight featuring a large cast of 31 talented youngsters presently ensconced at the home of Classic Stage Company, The East 13th Street Theater.
Directed by Bob Moss (Playwrights Horizons), this story, that takes place during the depression and World War II, is about LaGuardia (son of an immigrant), a no nonsense reform Republican; an attorney/Congressman/Mayor of NYC, who could never be bought, was always there to help the underclass, underprivileged without charge and fight Tammany Hall – the political machine that ruled with corruption run by the infamous Jimmy Walker and his henchmen. Yes, it was “Politics and Poker” . . . shuffle up the cards and find the joker!
From the underpaid women who worked for $4 a week at the Nifty Shirtwaist Factory, roughly treated when they took to the streets to strike – “Unfair”- to the romance that blooms, albeit one-sided from Marie (Katie Birenboim), Fiorello’s steadfast secretary, promulgating the clever lyrics of “Marie’s Law” . . . when a lady loves a gentleman, he must love her in return . . . ad hoc, to wit, to woo. . .” But as love goes, Fiorello falls fast for the Nifty model Thea (Rebecca Brudner) who eventually becomes his wife. But there’s much more going on, with Fiorello running for Congress and winning (“The Bum Won”), and going off to War in a heartfelt scene of farewells “Till Tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Marie’s best friend, the lively adorable Dora (Chelsea Cree Groen), falls for the somewhat dimwitted Floyd (Dan Cassin), the flatfoot Cop who makes his way up the ladder of success via the political machine, going from jobs in Sewer to Garbage, winding up in a Penthouse with Dora, whom he marries.
Ben Marino (Rylan Morsbach) is the district leader trying to fight Tammany Hall as he and his friends explain life’s excesses in the very amusing “Little Tin Box.”
When LaGuardia runs for Mayor of NYC after his marriage to Thea, he is hunted by the mob as tragedy strikes with Thea dying. Eventually love resumes as Marie finally gets her man and New York City gets a Mayor who can’t be bought.
All in all, the young talented BTG performers seem a little on the young side (because they are) to portray some of the roles, but their talent and enthusiasm overshadow. Austin Scott Lombardi, as Fiorello, immediately struck me as a young Billie Crystal look-a-like. His small physique, however, could have been enhanced with some padding as Fiorello was a portly man.
Highlight performances come from Chelsea Cree Groen as Dora, Rebecca Brudner as Thea, Rylan Morsbach as Ben, as well as Lombardi as LaGuardia.
The clever songs and lyrics keep the audience enamored, the timeliness of political corruption – always on the money (no pun intended).
The creative less-is-more scenic design (Carl Sprague) of using moveable, mini cutout NYC buildings works wonders, enhanced by Matthew E. Adelson’s lighting design. The period style costumes are right on target (David Murin) and the lively, energetic choreography by Michael Callahan is joyful. Evan Zavada is on Keyboard as music director together with violinist Alev Gokce Erem.
Fiorello! East 13 Street Theater, 136 E. 13 St.) www.fiorellonyc.com 800 833-3006
www.BerkshireTheatreGroup.com Running time 2hrs 35 min. – one intermission