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A CurtainUp Review
Encores! Face the Music

Aristophanes {the founder of the style of disorderly, irrelevant, satrical, anti-realistic coconut cream pie in the middle-class face comedy that led straight to the Marx Brothers, Monty Python and Mel Brooks] would recognize this show for what it is. It's what he used to do. It's a night out on the town. It's a shot at having something to say and saying it funny. It's a coconut pie. — David Ives in his entertaining program notes for the Encores! restoration of Face the Music.
Judy Kaye in Encores!  revival of  Face the Music
Judy Kaye in Encores! revival of Face the Music (Photo: JoanMarcus)
Though Face the Music made quite a stir when it opened on Broadway on Feb 17, 1932. It went on tour and returned to Broadway for another brief run. But then it disappeared, with only a few standards like "Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee" still known. That's why this loving and sophisticated restoration is a special treat that leaves no doubt as to its influence on backstage musicals like The Producers, The Drowsy Chaperone and Curtains.

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.

Encores! Face the Music
Meredith Patterson & Jeffrey Denman in the Encores! revival of Face the Music
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Ives' reconstruction has kept the sendups of Depression economis and police malfeasance in place but without some of the more dated references. The orchestra is far enough upstage to leave enough room for Randy Skinner's sparkling choreography. Whether by Meredith Patterson and Jeffry Denman, the show's leads, or Mylinda Hull and Eddie Korbich, the crucial to this type of show's comic duo, the dancing is heaven. All four of these performers sing as well as they dance. Hull and Korbich deservedly stopped the show several times.

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.
Encores! production of Face the Music
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Moss Hart
Directed by John Rando
Choreographed by Randy Skinner
Musical Direction by Rob Fisher
Choreography by Randy Skinner
Concert Adaptation by David Ives
Cast: Judy Kaye (Mrs. Myrtle Meshbesher), Lee Wilkof (Martin van Buren Meshbesher), Jeffry Denman (Pat Mason), Meredith Patterson (Kit Baker), Mylinda Hull (Pickles Crouse), Eddie Korbich (Joe Malarkey), Felicia Finley (Streetwalker), Chris Hoch (Rodney St. Clair/Prosecutor), Timothy Shew (O'Rourke) and Walter Bobbie (Hal Reisman).
Ensemble: Christine Arand, Heather Ayers, Sara Brians, Rachel Coloff, Rick Crom, Susan Derry, Jack Doyle, Jerold Goldstein Todd A. Horman, Justin Keyes, Cara Kjellman, Robyn Kramer, Todd Lattimore, Mike Masters, Brent McBeth, Shannon Marie O'Bryan, Wes Pope, Eric Daniel Santagata, Jacqueline Thompson, Kevin Vortmann, J. D. Webster, Anna Aimee White, Kristen Beth Williams.
Original orchestrations: Robert Russell Bennett, Maurice De Packh and Frank Tours
Music Coordinator: Seymour Red Press
Scenic Consultant: John Lee Beatty
Costume Consultant:Toni-Leslie James
Sound: Scott Lehrer
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, includes an intermission
Encores! at New York City Center, West 55th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues)
5 performances, from March 29 to April 1
Tickets: $25-$95
-->Reviewed by Elyse Sommer March 31st matinee
Musical Numbers (*indicate songs which were archived only as sheet music and restored for this production with lyrics)
Act One
  • Overture
  • Lunching at the Automat/ Ensemble
  • Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee/ Meredith Patterson, Jeffry Denman
  • Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee (Reprise/ Meredith Patterson, Jeffry Denman
  • *The Police of New York/Timothy Shew, Lee Wilkof, Policemen
  • Reisman's Doing a Show/ Mike Master, J. D. Webster, Rachel Colotti, Robyn Kramer, Eddie Korbich, Mylinda Hull, Jack Doyle, Rick Crom, Jacqueline Thompson, Felicia Findley
  • Torch Song/ Felicia Findley
  • You Must Be Born With It/ Eddie Korbich, Mylinda Hull, Ensemble
  • Castles in Spain (On A Roof in Manhattan)/ Meredith Patterson, Jeffry Denman
  • Crinoline Days/ Felicia Findley, Meredith Patterson, Rachel Colotti, Robyn Kramer, Jacqueline Thompson
  • My Beautiful Rhinestone Girl / Chris Hoch and Girls
  • Soft Lights and Sweet Music/Meredith Patterson, Jeffry Denman
  • *The Police of New York/Policemen
  • *If You Believe, Judy Kaye, Company
Act Two
  • Entr'acte/Orchestra
  • Well, of All the Rotten Shows/Ensemble
  • I Say It's Spinach(and the hell with it)/ Meredith Patterson, Jeffry Denmanr, Ensemble
  • *How Can I Change My Luck?/ Walter Bobbie, with Mike Masters and J. D. Webster
  • A Toast to Prohibition/ Judy Kaye and Lee Wilkoff, with Chris Hoch and Men
  • The Nudist Colony/Felicia Finley, Meredith Patterson, Ensemble
  • I Don't Want To Be Married (I just Want to Be Friends)/ Eddie Korbich, Mylinda Hull
  • Manhattan Madness /Jeffry Denman, Ensemble
  • The Investigation/Company
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