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A CurtainUp Review
Encores! Face the Music
By Elyse Sommer
With Rob Fisher leading the 28-piece Encores! orchestra, every word of Irving Berlin's clever lyrics can be heard and appreciated. Moss Hart's book has just enough of a plot to lend satirical bite and make even the obvious jokes still land smack on the funny bone. David Ives' masterful restoration includes songs archived only as sheet music. Director John Rando, choreographer Randy Skinner and the sensational cast keep the songs, dances and silly but funny jokes bouncing along so that the audience has too good a time to notice the incredible silliness that might explain why the show hasn't been done in seventy-five years.
The plot involves —surprise, surprise— a desperate producer and a show with pre and post-opening night problems. The reason producer Hal Reisman (Walter Bobbie) has trouble raising money is that the Depression has sent newly poor millionaires to the automat rather than cafe society hot spots for lunch (a wonderfully staged opening sequence). But there are some people with money left in town who are starstruck enough to invest in the Reisman's show— a bunch of crooked NYC policemen who want to lose all their dirty money before their "tin boxes" are subpoenaed. While the show flops on opening night (leading Wilkof to ponder "To think mothers raise their children to be critics"), it turns into a smash hit when nudity is added and a Vice Squad raid generates ticket selling headlines. Though the crooked cops quickly turn the other cheek, the FBI does not, and soon everyone involved with Rhinestones of 1932 is on the lam—until the de rigueur happy ending.
It's fun to see Walter Bobbie, the director of many Encores! stagings (including Chicago which made the leap from Encores! to Broadway), front and center again as Hal Reisman, the combination Ziegfeld-Bialystock producer. He couldn't have found a better pair of musical comedy cohorts, than Judy Kaye and Lee Wilkoff to play the the show's backers, corrupt police chief Martin van Buren Meshbesher and his kookie wife Myrtle. Kaye, besides having one of the theater's golden voices, is a gifted perfomer who even when hitting a high note always stays true to her character.
Another standout, especially during her soaring "Torch Song," is Felicia Finley; ditto for Chris Hoch as the show-within-the-show's leading man. Hoch is delightfully ridiculous soldiering through "My Beautiful Rhinestone Girl" while enduring physical grief in an intimate spot from a poorly placed— you guessed it — rhinestone. Hurrah too for the ensemble performances, notably the audience giving their thumbs down appraisal after opening night ("Well, of All the Rotten Shows") and the stunning "Manhattan Madness," wonderfully illustrated with Mark Mongold's projections.
Much has been made of the fact that Mary Bolan, the original Myrtle van Buren Meshbesher, made her final entrance on an elephant. However, Judy Kaye's golden chariot is also lots of fun. Besides, as Irving Berlin's daughter Mary Ellen Barrett explained at the Saturday matinee Talkback, while that elephant was what she remembered most from seeing the show as a five-year-old, she found out years later that it was actually a paper mache creation.
With or without elephants, this was the most fun tuner I've seen in a long time and I would urge you to rush out to get a ticket and see it for yourself if it weren't, like all these concert production, limited to less than a full week of performances. However, Artistic Director Jack Viertel has announced that a recording will be made. What's more, the Encores! season is not yet over and the next two events are likely to be quite special: The season continues its celebration of the musical revue with an original production called Stairway to Paradise (May 10-13) which features crème-de-la-crème examples of the genre such as The Band Wagon,Pins and Needles, This Is the Army and assorted Ziegfeld Follies. Kristin Chenoweth and Roger Bart star. Comes summer, another Encores! first, a show scheduled for a longer run (July 9-29). The show is Gypsy and it will star Patti LaPone, with direction by Arthur Laurents.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide