I Married An Angel – Encores!

Ensemble

By Brian Scott Lipton

 

The lone feather temporarily left on the stage of New York City Center feels like the perfect metaphor for the Encores! production of “I Married an Angel,” the 1938 confection from Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart that is so light it practically blows away while you’re watching it. The show is the first in many moons that fulfills the series’ original mission of reviving pieces, many from the 1920s and 1930s, that would never get a full-blown theatrical production — although it’s infinitely more polished than many of Encores’ earliest offerings.

But as often as not, especially during the first act, that polish can seem wasted on a slightly worn-out shoe: the show’s plot is entirely ludicrous (even as updated by Sandy Rustin and Sarah Saltzberg); its characters are completely one-dimensional; and the score isn’t exactly the pair’s finest, although it does contain two beloved standards, “I’ll Tell the Man in the Street” and “Spring Is Here,” as well as the charming oft-repeated title tune and the infectious “At the Roxy Music Hall,” which leads off a lengthy fantasy sequence that involves all the main characters and dominates the second act.

Sara Mearns & Ensemble

Ann Harada, Mark Evans

 

Of course, the raison d’etre of the piece, both in 1938 and now, was to show off the dancing skills of its leading lady. It was originally choreographed by George Balanchine for his then-fiancee Vera Zorina; this time around, director-choreographer Joshua Bergasse aims the spotlight on his wife, New York City Ballet star Sara Mearns. And his aim is not just true, but very smart.

As the title angel, who comes down from heaven to satisfy the marital urge of upstanding Hungarian banker Count Willy Palaffi (a fine Mark Evans), Mearns looks heavenly in a series of white costumes (by Alejo Viletti, whose work throughout is gorgeous). But more importantly, she graces the stage beautifully, both on pointe or executing modern dance, and proves herself a winning actress with a gentle comic flair. Her angel may have come from way above, but Mearns grounds these featherweight proceedings.

 

Nikki M. James, Tom Robbins

Philip Attmore, Hayley Podschun

 

By no means, though, is Mearns the entire reason to see the show. The biggest standout is Hayley Podschun, a brassy redhead with steel pipes, who steals all her scenes as the not-so-good-girl Anna Murphy. Indeed, her pairing with the gifted tap dancer Philip Attmore (as Willy’s associate Peter) on the show-stopping “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is reminiscent of Astaire and Rogers at their finest – and simply thrilling.

Meanwhile, Tony Award winner Nikki M. James brings sass and glamour to the role of Willy’s worldly sister Peggy; Tom Robbins is a hoot as fellow banker Harry Saigetti; and an almost unrecognizable Ann Harada makes the utmost of her few very choice lines as the Duchess of Holstein-Kuloff. Finally, as usual, it’s a pleasure to hear the fantastic Encores! orchestra, led once again by the great conductor Rob Fisher.

Indeed, if period musicals are your thing, you may be tempted to tell the man (or woman) in the street – or even just your friends – to grab a ticket. I don’t imagine we’ll see this “Angel” anytime soon.

Photos: Joan Marcus

 

“I Married an Angel” continues through Sunday, March 24 at New York City Center (131 West 55th Street). Visit www.nycitycenter.org for tickets and information.

 

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