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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Applause may not be quite as golden an oldie as some of the musicals incorporated into the satirical title song and major production number, despite its stellar creative collaborators: song writer Charles Strouse , lyricist Lee Adams (the first inevitably linked to Annie and the latter to Bye-Bye Birdie) and prolific book writers Betty Comden and Adolph Greene. Yet, the musical adaptation of the Oscar-winning All About Eve was as much a major star turn for Lauren Bacall on stage as it had been for Bette Davis on screen.
However, even though still showing occasional signs of her illness at the penultimate performance I attended, Ebersole was yet another memorable Margo-- less of a theatrical virago than Davis and more vocally suited to the role than Bacall, but nevertheless at once tough and charming. Her own unanticipated back stage story lent a special poignancy and smokiness to her standout solos, "But Alive," "Hurry Back" and "Welcome to the Theatre."
While no song can match Davis' forever quotable "Fasten Your Seatbelts," Kathleen Mashall brought a nice seatbelt-fastening edge to the as usual semi-staged revival and her choreography is eyecatchingly lively. The mostly black and white costumes were fine, and so was the red gown in which Ebersole first appeared. However Martin Pakledinaz, who's credited as costume consultant, should have consulted more with whoever was responsible for two of Ebersole's truly unflattering gowns. Ms. E. had enough to contend with without someone trying to undermine her natural good looks and perfectly nice figure.
Erin Davie, who was last on stage with Ebersole in Grey Gardens, belted out a fine "One Hallowe'en" but she fell a bit short in terms of being either persuasively mousy or ruthlessly scheming. Michael Park was perfect enough as Bill Sampson, the romantic lead, to make one look forward to seeing more of him on Broadway. Mario Cantone was wonderfully acerbic as Duane Fox, Margo's loyal hair dresser—happily without his more usual overcooked gay shtick. Chip Zien and Kate Burton made the most of Margo's temporarily disloyal friends playwright Buzz Richards and his wife Karen, including the weak songs that were written for them.
By the time you read this, this Encores! Applause will have come and gone. It's unlikely to join the list of Encores! productions to transfer to Broadway so hopefully you had a chance to have rare second look at it and see that while it was a hit but not a true musical classic, it nevertheless influenced quite a few musicals that followed. Hopefully too, its game star will be enjoying a well earned rest and full recovery.