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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
By Elyse Sommer
In 1949 Carol Channing proclaimed her love of diamonds at the Ziegfeld Theater for 749 performances. In the 1953 Marilyn Monroe again proved the diamond smitten Lorelei's star making power. And now Encores! that untiring retriever of musicals — the flops as well as the hits, the forgotten and the fondly remembered — has given New Yorkers a chance to forget the grim daily headlines with a brief return to a bygone era.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes typifies the long gone musical genre which had a purposefully silly book that functioned mainly as coat hangers on which to hang songs tied to the plot by the thinnest of threads. Besides the famous jewel in the crown, "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," and the contageously catchy "I'm 'A Tingle, I'm 'AGlow" Jule Styne and Leo Robin scintillating tunes include there's I"Bye, Bye, Baby," "I Love What I'm Doing (When I'm Doing it for Love) and the show-stopping "A Little Girl from Little Rock."
The latest Lorelei, Megan Hilty, won't know if she'll be cast as the star in a musical based on Marilyn Montroe until the first season of the TV Soapsical Smash ends. In the meantime she's made the most of the opportunity to bring her own sizzle and oomph to Encores! If it turns out that the Encores! Gentlemen. . . convinces enough producers that a musical plot can't be too thin or too silly to once again succeed on Broadway, such a transfer would have at least a slim chance of making them rich if Hilty were part of it.
Hilty is no copycat Channing or Monroe but her own delightful and quite funny dumb like a fox Lorelei. Her mincing little steps and way of speaking are a bit reminiscent of Judy Holiday. She may not be quite as natural a comedienne, but she more than makes up for it with her nifty dancing and a big, belting voice.
Good as Hilty is, this isn't a one horse pony. For those who prefer brunettes, there's Rachel York's quite wonderful Dorothy Shaw as Lorelei's best friend and cruise ship companion. She'll have you tapping your toes with "It's High Time" and "I Love What I'm Doing," the latter abetted by five splendidly muscular dancers.
Wonderful and any number of praise adjectives apply to the entire ensemble, including the fellows targeted as potential sugar daddies: Charles Thorell as Gus Esmond Jr., the Button King and Stephen R. Buntrock asosephus Gage, The Zipper King -- the men's products, of course unbuttoning and unzipping numerous innuendos about the ladies getting dressed and undressed.
Other ship passengers adding to the fun and nonsense inclue Deborah Rush as Mrs. Ella Spofford, the richest woman in Philadelphia and crooner extraordinaire Aaron Lazar as her son and heir, Henry who Lorelei sees as a perfect catch for Dorothy. The setting being a cruise ship, the Americans are joined by a lascivious English aristocrat, Sir Francis Beekman as played by Simon Jones with and Sandra Shipley, his possessive wife. From France we have Brennan Brown and Steven Boyer as a père et fils pair of legal eagles hired to retrieve a diamond tiara in Lorelei's posession.
Given the way it still hovers between the revue and the integrated book musicals, Gentleman Prefer Blondes is a decidedly old-fashined cream puff, but there's nothing slight about the talent that's gone into this production. Ably overseeing everything is director John Rando. Randy Skinner's choreography is nothing short of spectacular -- with a Paris Club scene dance by Megan Sikora and Philip Attmore and Jared Grimes being as big and deserved a showstoper as Lorelei's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." John Lee Beatty, noted for elegantly detailed sets, proves that he can also do much with minimal scenery.
There's nothing minimal about Davic C. Woolard's rich array of costumes — their opulence and abundance as much as anything, reflect the Encores! change and growth over the years, from a book-in-hand, staged concert affair to a more sophisticated finished presentation. The large Encores! orchestra is still on stage, which in these days of downsized musical accompaniment is a reassuring sight. The scripts that were once referred to regularly are now used much more sparingly mostly a signature prop — a signature for some 20 years of invaluable contirrbtions to celebrating musical theater.
Anita Loos's 1925 book Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was actually a compliation of a series of magazine stories. Its worldwide success led to a sequel titled But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes. In Smash, Hilty's Ivy is involved with a director unlikely to marry anyone, while her brunette rival's boyfriend has proposed marriage. But of course, Lorelei she as well as her brunette friend end up at the altar as all leading ladies in old-fashioned musicals do.
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