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A CurtainUp Review
Manhattan Madcaps of 1924

Manhattan Madcaps
Presented with tongue in cheek as a "lost" musical of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, Manhattan Madcaps of 1924 in fact is a witty, breezy, and richly melodic compilation of some of that remarkable team’s mostly lesser known songs. A few of them appeared in hit shows like Babes in Arms and By Jupiter, but the vast majority of this deftly appropriated score comes from sources known only to avid musical theater historians, including several films from the duo’s largely forgotten Hollywood phase. Although Hart died young in 1943 and Rodgers went on to even more fame in his subsequent partnership with Oscar Hammerstein II, musical theater fans should not forget that Rodgers and Hart were our most successful and prolific composer-lyricist pair for two decades, producing two or more shows every year.

Although the concocted libretto by Jerzy Turnpike (understood in fact to be a silly pseudonym for Symphony Space’s own Artistic Director Isaiah Sheffer) is efficiently and ebulliently evocative of the time in which Rodgers and Hart rose to fame, the reason for this show of course is its cornucopia of wonderful tunes and lyrics. One very familiar tune, "Blue Moon," does show up repeatedly, but only with its mostly unknown earlier lyrics, all in songs dropped from shows. The script in fact plays somewhat like On the Town. Instead of three sailors on 24-hour leave courting their dates du jour, this plot centers on three young men in New York and the important ladies in their lives. Added to the comedic mix are a maverick candidate for mayor and his female admirer/promoter. Additional action revolves around the inevitable rocky roads of love and the classic New York theme of apartment hunting. When plot ends are tied together for this amiable octet of characters, the program appropriately closes with the team’s still memorable first major success, "Manhattan," which was heard first in Garrick Gaieties of 1925.

The cast is a spirited and charming ensemble with a high level of musical comedy verve, although none display extraordinary singing voices. This shortcoming, while overcome in many respects owing to the cast’s considerable general performance skills, would never have been tolerated by Richard Rodgers in his day. On the other hand, Mr. Rodgers likely would be enchanted, as was I, by the simple but delicious arrangements by Lanny Meyers, who also does stellar work as musical director and pianist. Supporting him are the equally gifted Yair Evnine on both cello and guitar, and the sublime sounds of Todd Sullivan on both violin and voila. The overture and dance segments are pure enchantment. An additional welcome asset is hearing both the singers and the instrumentalists au natural, without amplification or auditory gimmickry. The diction is perfect, and not a lyric or word of dialogue is lost to the ear.

Especially winning in their comic performances are Ivy Austin as a struggling actress, Christine Bokhour as a rodeo aspirant, and Sidney J. Burgoyne as the mayoral hopeful. Ms. Austin’s mime accompaniment to "Simpatica" is hilarious, Ms. Bokhour’s twangy take on "Way Out West on West End Avenue" widens smiles all over the theater, and Mr. Burgoyne’s spirited leading of two other comic songs sets the stage afire. Another highlight is the amusing comic feud staging of "Everything I’ve Got," showcasing the charming Nick Verina and Katie Allen as a romantic pair relocating from middle America.

The brisk and well-paced direction by Annette Jolles maintains fizzy fun throughout the performance, and Ryan Scott’s simple but subtly art deco unit set enhances the roaring twenties atmosphere. Choreography by Regina Larkin also adds to the pleasure, accenting the effervescent spirit of the production. This reviewer had a great time, as apparently did the entire audience.

Manhattan Madcaps of 1924
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
Libretto by Jerzy Turnpike
Translation by Isaiah Sheffer
Directed by Annette Jolles
Cast: Katie Allen, Ivy Austin, Christine Bokhour, Sidney J. Burgoyne, Michael Simon Hall, Howard Kaye, Staci Rudnitsky, Nick Verina
Musical Arrangements & Direction by Lanny Meyers
Choreography by Regina Larkin
Setting by Ryan Scott
Lighting Design by Brian Aldous
Costumes by Madeline Cohen

Running time: one hour, 15 minutes (no intermission)
Presented by Symphony Space at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space, Broadway at 95th Street (212) 864-5400,
From July 13 to 23, 2004
Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.
Tickets: $19
Reviewed by Brad Bradley

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