By Brian Scott Lipton
I imagine every Encores! subscriber –or musical theatre aficionado – had their own personal choice of show with which to open the beloved City Center series’ 25th anniversary season. Well, artistic director Jack Viertel had an entirely different solution in mind: saluting 10 less-than-successful tuners, through their scores, songs and scenes, in the often delectable Hey, Look Me Over.
Narrated by the hilarious Bob Martin, reprising his witty-nerdy “Drowsy Chaperone” Man in Chair persona, this revue-like piece – nicely directed by Marc Bruni and choreographed by Denis Jones — is made even more delicious by the presence of some of Broadway’s biggest luminaries. And while many of the performers have been asked to step into the seemingly unfillable shoes of some legendary stars, including Lena Horne and Lucille Ball, rest assured, not one member of this large, extraordinary cast ever seems the least bit intimidated by the task at hand.
Indeed, special kudos must go to the multi-talented Clyde Alves who is cast in the role of George M. Cohan (from “George M”) and who, on opening night, actually shared the stage (and part) with its originator, the ever-remarkable Joel Grey.
I also imagine every Encores! audience member who sees this piece will have their own opinion on what they wanted to see more –or less of — from each featured show. For example, I was sad that the revue’s title tune (from “Wildcat”) is the only chance the always amazing Carolee Carmello gets to shine (which she does). And I could watch the glorious Vanessa Williams sing and strut all evening, which made settling for just two stellar turns from “Jamaica” – “Ain’t That the Truth” and “Push the Button” – a tad disappointing.
Meanwhile, doing three numbers from the less-than-stellar “All American,” while nicely performed by Reed Birney and the invaluable Judy Kuhn (who also has a lovely moment opposite the wonderful Mark Kudisch in the show’s “Milk and Honey” segment), seemed a bit excessive. As did the inclusion of five numbers from Frank Loesser’s lovely but slight “Greenwillow,” although Clifton Duncan’s bravura rendition of that musical’s one truly memorable number, “Never Will I Marry,” is almost literally worth the price of a ticket.
Similarly, you’ll want to cough up whatever bucks you can just to see three other performances. In the show’s all-too-brief salute to Jerry Herman’s short-lived “Mack & Mabel,” Douglas Sills, portraying film producer Mack Sennett, gives a towering rendition of “When Movies Were Movies” while Alexandra Socha, as his leading lady (offscreen and on) Mabel Normand, is pure dynamite doing “Look What Happened to Mabel.” (Yes, I know Michael Stewart’s book for this show will never fully work, but if any producer in town can get these two for an extended run, please just do the show. Please!)
Finally, it’s hard to really say what a pleasure it is to see Bebe Neuwirth (looking just incredible) back onstage, especially assaying the role of Mimi, the sardonic, frazzled travel guide, in Noel Coward’s “Sail Away.” In no way imitating the one-and-only Elaine Stritch (for whom Coward wrote the part), Neuwirth takes mere seconds to make Mimi her own, and her withering version of the brilliant “Why Do the Wrong People Travel” earns deserved hoots and hollers.
Yes, the show is sometimes a little confusing (if you don’t know all the source material) and a tad overlong. But it’s mostly (to paraphrase a title from “Greenwillow”) “A Night Borrowed from Heaven,” and a very fitting way to start off the next quarter century of Encores!
Photos: Joan Marcus
Hey, Look Me Over continues through Sunday, February 11 at New York City Center (131 West 55th Street). Call 212-581-1212 or visit www.nycitycenter.org for tickets.