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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Fiorello LaGuardia (1882-1947), a three-term Mayor of New York, was one such dragon slayer, and the rise of the "Little Flower" (his affectionate nick-name) from obscurity to powerful leader was a case study in "stick-to-it-righteousness."
When the musical Fiorello!, based on his life in politics, opened in 1960, the malaise with government had not yet begun in earnest and the book for the show by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott seemed less significant than the exuberance of the production. The show won the Tony Award for Best Musical as well as a Pulitzer Prize, due in great part to the rich, eclectic score by Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics).
The Berkshire Theatre Group in Stockbridge, Massachusetts has mounted a lively production of this uniquely New York musical in their intimate Unicorn Theatre. The choice is both welcome and intriguing.
Sixty years later, the book may seem a bit naive and the story line more jumbled and confused than I remembered it, but the name Tammany Hall still registers as the chief villain and Major Jimmy Walker one of the system's hedonistic bad-boys.
But heck, this is a musical not a political rally (thank you God) and the emphasis is happily placed on the music and the romantic triangle between Fiorello (a spirited Austin Lombardi), his first wife Thea (Rebecca Bruder), and his long suffering, love sick assistant Marie (Katie Birenboim.)
Bob Moss, the esteemed founder of Playwrights Horizons in New York, one of my favorite theater destinations, is the director. With help from choreographer Michael Callahan he creates a whirling, bustling canvas of early 20th century life in the melting pot known as NOO YAWK. David Murin's costumes add flavor and zip (especially for some leggy sequined show girls) to the mix.
The cast is made up of young performers associated with the Berkshire Group and they're an able, appealing lot. The absence of any senior actors does shade the dramatics of the story a bit.
Austin Lombardi is a standout as the ambitious, stick of dynamite LaGuardia and Rebecca Bruner as his Italian wife and Katie Birenboim as his love sick political associate contribute strong emotional moments. All three have polished voices. I also enjoyed Rylan Morsbach's rugged political boss and Matt Mclean and Michael Sullivan as loyal Fiorello supporters. The guys in the cast make out best getting to sing both the cynical but funny "Politics and Poker" and "Little Tin Box." Chelsea Groan and Dan Cassin carry off the comedy of the dumb cop (Floyd) and even dumber blonde (Dora – what else) with a thankful minimum of cuteness.
I did wish, however, that the sound man had not miked Groen and Birenboim so much they both came off as shrill—– less of a problem for Groen's flighty character, but definitely a miss for Marie who could use a softer, warmer tone.
Best moments are when the entire cast is singing and dancing to one of the dreamy songs — like "Till Tomorrow" and "Home Again." In the scene where ethic groups are assembled for a LaGuardia rally did I not hear hints of melodies from Bock and Harnick's later masterpiece, Fiddler on the Roof." Yes, I did and so will you.
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Music : Jerry Bock; Lyrics: Sheldon Harnick
Book: Jerome Weidman, GeorgeAbbott
Directed by Bob Moss
Choreography by Michael Callahan
Music direction: Evan Zavada
Cast: Austin Lombardi (Fiorello), Katie Birenboim (Marie), Rylan Morsbach (Ben), Rebecca Brudner (Thea), Matt McLean (Morris), Chelsea Groen (Dora), Dan Cassin (Floyd), Michael Sullivan (Neil), Michael Brahce (Zapatella), Julius Reese (Political Hack) . . . Ensemble: Luis Aguilar, Erika Anclade, Matt Caccamo, Alyssa Haning, Lindsay Ortmeyer, Jenny Popovich, Jamie Walters and Amy Welch.
Scenic design: Carl Sprague
Costume design: David Murin
Lighting design: Matthew E Adelson
Sound design: Brendan F. Doyle
Dialect coach: David Alan Stern
Stage Manager: Shelby North
Musicians: Cindy Ogulnick (violin); Evan Zavada (piano).
Running time: Two hours, twenty minutes including one 15-minute intermission.
Berkshire Theatre Group/Unicorn Theater in Stockbridge, MA
From June 15, 2016 to July 23, 2016
Reviewed by Chesley Plemmons
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