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A CurtainUp Review
Music in the Air

I've told ev'ry little star,
Just how sweet I think you are,
Why haven't I told you?

Music in the Air
Kristin Chenoweth in Music in the Air (Photo: Joan Marcus)
At the beginning of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's planning for Music in the Air, Hammerstein wanted to set the show in the office of a Tin Pan Alley Music publisher. Kern, however, preferred the more romantic setting of a small village in Bavaria. The original title for the show was to be Karl and Sieglinde, and the plot, one familiar to operetta, would feature a music teacher and composer who create a song based on a bird call and take it to the big city (in this case Munich) where small-town values meet big-city greed.

Kern got his way, yet Hammerstein managed to make Munich look an awful lot like Tin Pan Alley. That, together with Hammerstein's experimentation with dialogue and smooth transitions from spoken word to song, keep Music in the Air remarkably accessible to a modern audience, despite its outdated storyline. The operetta has not been seen in New York since its premiere at the Alvin Theatre in 1932, produced by former Ziegfeld girl, Peggy Fears, and Elizabeth Marbury, one of the first female producers on Broadway — until its restoration by the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization for the second Encores! production of New York City Center's 2008-2009 season with a cast of some of Broadway's most notable heavyweights.

Krisin Chenoweth was the diva Frieda Hatzfeld, who almost loses the leading lady role in the upcoming production to Sieglinde Lessing (Sierra Boggess), the pretty young girl from the village, daughter to composer Dr. Walter Lessing (Tom Alan Robbins), and beloved of music teacher Karl Reder (Ryan Silverman). Douglas Sills was the egotistical librettist, Bruno Mahler, who almost throws Frieda over for the innocent and possibly available Sieglinde. And Marni Nixon, better known for semi-anonymous dubbing, took to the stage as Frau Direktor Lilli Kirschner.

With such a formidable creative team and cast, director Gary Griffin certainly had a lot to work with. The show, in fact glid as smoothly as . . .music in the air. Chenoweth's characteristic humor and zest combined with her extraordinary voice to make the evening especially memorable. And Nixon's voice certainly belies her age. Her "In Egern on the Tegern See" seemed made for her.

Although many of the songs in have not withstood the changing tastes of time, the beautiful ballad "This Song Is You" and the delightful composition attributed to Lessing in the show, "I've told Every Little Star," were familiar to many. (In fact Kern had transcribed a bird's song he'd heard for "I've Told Every Little Star.")

The Encores! shows are called staged readings, but, of course, they include elaborate costumes and sets that, while minimal, quite adequately convey the time and place of the action. Music in the Air was a wonderful reminder of a time when romance, happy endings, wit and elegance could survive even while many were experiencing extreme hardship. It might be a fine lesson for us today.

Like all these concerts, this one ran for so few performances which explains why this review is in the past tense--and not one I can end by urging you to go see it.
Music in the Air
Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein
Music by Jerome Kern
Directed by Gary Griffin
Musical Direction by Rob Berman
Cast: Sierra Boggess (Sieglinde Lessing), Walter Charles (Cornelius), Kristin Chenoweth (Frieda Hatzfeld), Dick Latessa (Herr Direktor Kirschner), Anne L. Nathan (Marthe), Marni Nixon (Frau Direktor Lilli Kirschner), Tom Alan Robbins (Dr. Walter Lessing), David Schramm (Ernst Weber), Robert Sella (Uppmann), Douglas Sills (Bruno Mahler), Ryan Silverman (Karl Reder)
Scenic Consultant: John Lee Beatty
Choreography: Michael Lichtefeld
Costume Consultant: David C. Woolard
Lighting: Paul Miller
Sound: Scott Lehrer
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes with one intermission
New York City Center, West 55th St. between 6th and 7th, (212) 581- 1212
February 5 to 8, 2009
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons, Feb. 6, 2009
Song List
Act 1: Melodies of May, I've Told Every Little Star, Prayer, There's a Hill Beyond a Hill, And Love Was Born, I Am So Eager, Bubble Dance, I'm Coming Home (Letter Song), I'm Alone
Act Two: One More Dance, Night Flies, When the Spring Is in the Air, In Egern on the Tagern See, The Song Is You, We Belong Together
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