by Peter Haas
The Boys From Syracuse, a merry romp with songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and book by George Abbott, premiered on Broadway in 1938, more than 80 years ago. Based on Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” – which itself was loosely based on a Roman play by Plautus — the musical, revived several times in past years, has now been given a makeover by the intimate revival production group, Musicals Tonight, playing at The Lion Theater on West 42nd Street.
Delightfully intact among a dozen songs are such favorites – feeling as fresh today as they did then –as “Falling In Love With Love,” “This Can’t Be Love,” “Sing For Your Supper” and “You Have Cast Your Shadow on the Sea.” They are backed by a fine small band, perched high on a loft above the stage and led by music director Evan Rees,.
Also on hand is a game, talented singing-and-dancing cast – all men playing most of the women’s parts, except for one inexplicable actress in multiple inconsequential roles (Madeline Hamlet in the roles of Seeress /Emilia, Fatima, Maid 2). Even the audience member recruited to the edge of the stage as a foil for one of the songs was a man – whose quiet bemused manner stood in contrast to the over-the-top performances of the principals.
The plot revolves around two long-separated identical twins who, with their also-identical-twin servants (the latter played in this production by real-life identical twins) go abroad; become romantically and erroneously involved with different women, and who, in the end, sort it all out with – of course – love.
It’s difficult to select individual actors above others for the excellence of their performances. All played as an ensemble, and all sang with fine voices in often-delightfully-comic numbers. Yet all seemed subject to the frenzy and frequent mugging laid down by the show’s director. The men acting in women’s roles particularly tended to campy exaggeration, calling more attention to their performances than to their characterizations. But then, no one made a claim to believability; fun was on the menu, and fun was decidedly delivered.
The songs – ah, the songs! – were performed moderately straight (no pun intended) and in character, providing the affection and attention they deserved. The cast’s singing voices were all first-rate, the songs delights to hear. They remain the best excuse you’d want to see this production.
Photos: Milliron Studio Photography
The Boys From Syracuse, Lion Theater, Theatre Row, 410 West 42 Street, NYC Thru February 26 www.MusicalsTonight.org