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Bells Are Ringing
I'm in love with a man/Plaza-O-Double-Four-Double-Three/What a perfect relationship/I can't see him, he can't see me.—Ella
In an age of e-mails and text messaging, it takes a special kind of courage to revive Bells Are Ringing, a musical based on the romance of a switchboard operator at an answering service. Yet, with characteristic verve and fortitude, Encores! has brought back the 50s with a concert version that takes great pains to recreate the style of the original production, both musically and visually.
In this case, the original production featured the incomparable Judy Holliday as Ella Peterson, the kind-hearted, somewhat naïve Susanswerphone employee; Sydney Chaplin as Jeff Moss, a playwright who has lost confidence in his ability to write; Jean Stapleton as Sue Summers' Ella's overbearing and lovesick boss; and Eddie Lawrence as Ella's boyfriend, Sandor, a man who uses love as a means to enlarge his bookmaking operations. It was directed by Jerome Robbins and had choreography by Robbins and Bob Fosse.
The Encores! director and choreographer Kathleen Marshal also has a stellar cast. Kelli O'Hara may not have the naïve vulnerability of Holliday, but she does have all the necessary enthusiasm and sweetness, with a great voice to boot. The always wonderful Judy Kaye is both wise and ridiculous as Ella's boss. And Will Chase, a fine romantic lead, makes Jeff unabashedly sincere and his ballads filled with tender love. David Pittu has been perfectly cast as Sandor, the all-around phony and charlatan with a German accent even the deaf would suspect.
Bells Are Ringing has a book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, two writers who did not shy away from unlikely stories with a liberal dose of barely believable coincidence. Apparently in the 1950s people had no trouble suspending disbelief when it came to a woman barging into other people's lives and miraculously changing them.
The show has a superb score by Comden and Green (lyrics) and Jule Styne (music). A number of the show's songs have become standards, most notably "The Party's Over", "Long Before I Knew You" and "Just in Time." Even songs that have not become part of the American songbook are still notable — the hilarious "Salzburg" (by the sea), the dance number "Mu-Cha-Cha" and the showstopper "I'm Goin' Back".
People who know the show can rest assured that these songs are treated with great love and care in this revival. Those who don't know the show will most likely realize what made this musical such a hit.
In general, musicals, even the least topical, become outdated quickly. The musical style and social norms on which they are based are often not long-lasting. In Bells Are Ringing one of the minor characters is Blake Barton (the pitch-perfect Bobby Cannavale), an out-of-work method actor who imitates Marlon Brando, when he was a hot actor who wore a tight T-shirt, not an aging and overweight gangster; and one of the songs, "Drop That Name", drops names many people today will no longer recognize.
But as Encores! productions prove time and again, when a show has great tunes and an endearing plot, and is presented by a talented, well-directed cast, like a fine wine, it just gets better and better.
Bells Are Ringing
Book and Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Music By Jule Styne
Directed and Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall
Music Direction by Rob Berman
Cast: David Hyde Pierce (Announcer), Judy Kaye (Sue Summers), Leah Edwards (Miss Stevens), Kelli O'Hara (Ella Peterson), Jack Doyle (Morty Hopper), Rachel Coloff (Mme Grimaldi), Meggie Cansler (Olga), Niffer Clarke (Mrs. Mallet), Alyse Alan Louis (Jimmy), Jeffrey Schecter (Carl), Will Chase (Jeffrey Moss), Dylan Baker (Inspector Barnes), Danny Rutigliano (Francis), David Pittu (J. Sandor Prantz), John C. Vennema (Larry Hastings), Bobby Cannavale (Blake Barton), William Ryall (Ludwig Smiley/Man from Corvello Mob), Brad Oscar (Dr. Kitchell), Michael Halling (Paul Arnold/Man from Corvello Mob), Andre Cao (Butler), J.D. Webster (Pyramid Club Singer)
Scenic Consultant: John Lee Beatty
Costume Consultant: Martin Pakledinaz
Lighting: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound: Scott Lehrer
Stage Manager: Rick Steiger
NY City Center, West 55th Street between 6th and 7th avenues, (212) 581-1212
11/18 through 11/21
Thursday through Saturday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 6:30pm
Tickets: $100 - $25
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 21, 2010
Act I Songs
Bells Are Ringing
It's a Perfect Relationship
Independent (On My Own)
You've Got to Do It
It's a Simple Little System
Is It a Crime?
Better Than a Dream
Hello, Hello There!
I Met a Girl
Long Before I Knew You
Act II Songs
Just In Time
Drop That Name
The Party's Over
The Midas Touch
Reprise: Long Before I Knew You
I'm Goin' Back
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