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A CurtainUp Review
Encores! Applause

I feel punchy and bleary
And fresh out of magic,
But alive.

— Margot Channing's lyrics from one of the liveliest numbers from Applause carried new meaning when sung by a Christine Ebersole, still somewhat punchy and bleary from working while recovering from the flu .
Christine Ebersole
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The original Broadway production of Applause played for 896 performances. There's no record of how many times that production's star, Lauren Bacall, was too under the weather to go on. However, if she had a bad cold, the flu or a toothache, she had someone standing by to take over (Gretchen Wyler is the only understudy I could track down). Not so Christine Ebersole the Margot Channing of the Encore! revival of Applause. Limited to just five performances, these popular concert revivals of Broadway's golden oldies, are mounted without the safety net of understudies for anyone. Thus, despite a de habilitating flu, Ebersole once more proved the validity of that oldest of show biz myths: the show must go on! And so, applause! applause, Christine (the double applause was actually originally considered as the show's title) for being a trooper to beat all troopers. And more applause for being terrific even when singing with a voice less than fully operational.

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.

Encores! Applause
Book: Betty Comden & Adolph Green Music: Charles Strouse
Lyrics: Lee Adams
Director & Choreographer: Kathleen Marshall
Music Direction: Rob Berman
Cast: Christine Ebersole (Margot Channing), Kate Burton (Karen Richards), Mario Cantone (Duane Fox), Tom Hewitt (Howard Benedict), Michael Park (Bill Sampson), Megan Sikora (Bonnie), Chip Zien (Buzz Richards) and Erin Davie (Eve Harrington); with Tony Freeman, Bob Gaynor, David Studwell, J.D. Webster, Cole Burden, John Carroll, Paula Leggett Chase, Susan Derry, Sarah Jane Everman, Lisa Gajda, Gregg Goodbrod, Justin Greer, James Harkness, Joe Komara, Raymond Lee, Monica Patton, Manuel Santos, Jennifer Savelli, Chaunteé Schuler, Steven Sofia, Kevin Vortman and Kristen Beth Williams.
2/07/08 to 2/10/08
Thu - Sat at 8pm; Sat at 2pm; Sun at 6:30pm
Tickets: $25 - $95
City Center, 131 West 55th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues). 212-581-1212
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer February 9th matinee
Musical Numbers
(New material arranged by David Chase, orchestrated by Larry Blank
Act One
  • Backstage Babble/ First Nighters
  • Think How It's Gonna Be / Bill Sampson
  • But Alive / Margo /Duane/Eve
  • But Alive / Margo /Duane/Eve and Bar patrons
  • The Best Night of My Life/ Eve Harrington
  • Who's That Girl? / Margo Channing and Eve
  • Applause/ Bonnie and Gypsies
  • Hurry Back/Margo Channing
  • Fasten Your Seat Belts/Buzz Richards, Karen Richards, Howard Benedict, Duane Fox, Bill Sampson and Guests
  • Welcome to the Theatre/ Margo Channing
Act Two
  • Inner Thoughts/ Karen Richards, Buzz Richards and Margo Channing
  • Good Friends / Margo Channing, Karen Richards and Buzz Richards
  • The Best Night of My Life (Reprise) /. Eve Harrington
  • She's No Longer a Gypsy/ Bonnie, Duane Fox and Gypsies
  • One of a Kind/ Bill Sampson and Margo Channing
  • One Hallowe'en/ Eve Harrington
  • Something Greater /Margo Channing and Bill Sampson (Originally Just Margot)

The  Playbill Broadway YearBook
The Playbill Broadway YearBook

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide


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