A chance to see an early Gershwin musical, charmingly, if economically staged.
By Joel Benjamin
Mel Miller’s final offering of this season’s Musicals Tonight! is a sweet early George & Ira Gershwin confection, Pardon My English from 1933. Despite a zany libretto by Herbert Fields and Morrie Ryskind, and a more than serviceable score, the musical wasn’t a great success, even by the standards of its times when even a year’s run was profitable. But, the show did introduce several Gershwin Brothers’ standards: “The Lorelei,” “Isn’t It a Pity?” and “My Cousin In Milwaukee.” The rest of this score is light and fluffy, full of thirties’ references and amusing wordplay.
Thomas Sabella-Mills, the director/choreorgrapher, made the most of MT!’s modest resources, keeping a stageful of singers zipping at top speed through the silly plot that involves several cases of amnesia, mistaken identity and a witty parody of Prohibition era foibles, beginning with setting several of the scenes in Klub 21 (in Dresden!), an obvious reference to the 21 Club, then a notorious speakeasy. However, in the Fields/Ryskind take on Prohibition, soft drinks are banned, not alcohol, making for some deftly funny dialogue. (Strawberry phosphate, anyone!?)
Golo (a handsome, delightfully unmannered Tyler Milliron), the proprietor of the aforementioned Klub 21 becomes, when swatted properly on the bean, upper crust Englishman, Michael. Unfortunately, each of his personas has a girlfriend. Sensuous chanteuse, Gita (a sultry Amie Bermowitz) is Golo’s possessive squeeze, while sweet, innocent Frieda (a perfectly pitched Jillian Gottlieb, whose transformation to love kitten is delicious) is Michael’s fiancée.
Frieda is the daughter of Police Commissioner Bauer (Colin Ryan in a boisterous, big-voiced performance) who’s out to expose and arrest Golo. The complications are obvious.
Into the mix are brought a sassy maid, Magda (a wittily amusing Stacey Harris), Doctors Freud, Jung and Adler, the famous psycho-analysts, led by a self-absorbed Dr. Steiner (an amusingly confused David Gautschy) who try to figure out Golo/Michael’s problem.
Characters swiftly morph and there is much identity confusion, typical of the light entertainments of the thirties. Included also is a final switcheroo that turns one character from hussy to sweetheart.
TJ Mannix plays a lumbering Sgt. Schultz, assistant to Bauer who never can quite catch Golo selling the prohibited soft drinks. Blake Joseph’s upper crust English twit, Dickie Carter, was well played. The small ensemble which charmingly portrayed drink-seeking tourists, wedding guests and locals, included Diana Rose Becker, Alexandra McKenna-Mantica, Mark C. Montague, Chelsie Nectow, Katherine Oswald, Ryan Rhue, Michael Jayne Walker and Michael Yeshion.
James Stenborg was the masterful music director/pianist and Mr. Miller, the informative host.
*photos by Michael Portantiere
Pardon My English (through April 19, 2015)
The Lion Theatre/Theatre Row 410 West 42nd St., just west of 9th Avenue New York, NY
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or www.telecharge.com or at the box office
More information: www.MusicalsTonight.org
Running time: One hour 45 minutes with one intermission