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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
No Strings

I read VOGUE religiously!— Barbara.
That's the only way to read it!— Mollie

Scott Bakula and Sophina Brown
Scott Bakula and Sophina Brown
(Photo: Michael Lamont)
No Strings not only marks a Reprise! of Richard Rodgers' 1962 musical at UCLA's Freud Playhouse but a reprise of the singing talents of Scott Bakula, best known now for his television career (Quantum Leap, Star Trek: Enterprise) but remembered by musical fans as a Tony nominee for his starring role in the Broadway musical Romance/Romance. Meeting Bakula in his reincarnation as writer and expatriate David Jordan is a treat. His voice is splendid and he acts with passionate intensity. His co-star is Sophina Brown, who plays Barbara Woodruff, the first African-American model in Paris in 1962. She reprises the first starring role in a Broadway musical for a woman of color, created by Diahann Carroll who won the Tony for it (and was in the audience opening night). Brown is also a vocal delight. Her finest acting moment comes in the finale, when she expressively projects the sorrow she feels over being parted from her lover.

The show, set in the familiar fashionable world of mid-century Paris, is too talky, tentative and familiar. Shades of An American in Paris and Funny Face where naive model meets sophisticated burnt-out guy! In No Strings the ambitious girl is a Harlem teen-ager with no trace of an accent and the guy is a blocked Pulitzer Prize-winner, now European expat. You can guess the rest.

Much was made in 1962 of the then daring bi-racial casting of the lovers. Oddly, this is discussed even less than in South Pacific. Barbara says she lives in "way uptown" New York and her complexion does the rest. When David realizes he must abandon his fervid European lifestyle and go back to his Maine island if he is to write again, the couple's breakup has no dialogue relevant to the racial divide. Barbara would have no career or compatible companions there, whatever her color. It's a museum piece of how love could turn away in that period.

The stand-out songs in a blandly pleasant score with both words and music by Richard Rodgers are "The Sweetest Sounds" and quot;Loads of Love". The book is by Samuel Taylor.

What stands this show on its head is the wonderful staging by Kay Cole. Using the cast to move set pieces on stage was part of the original production but Cole makes it breath-takingly arresting, silhouetting dancers against a back-lit scarlet curtain and posing the models in huge straw hats and teensy-weensy bikinis and paraus during the beach scene. She's aided by Joe McFate's interpretation of Bob Mackie's costumes, incredibly opulent and elegant for a production of this scope, and by Steven Young's lighting design.

The cast is swell, especially the "soubrettes." Bets Malone as the wealthy fun-loving Texan, Comfort O'Connell, is a real belter and her duet with Ruth Wiliamson's sly smooth Mollie is one of the treats of the evening. Williamson plays Vogue editor Mollie Plummer as a Kay Thompson knock-off. Matthew Ashford has a powerful voice as Comfort's toy-boy Mike, Carla Tassara gives cabaret style to Jeanette, the photographer's assistant who moves like an obsessed butterfly, and Joseph Culliton is suave and silky-voiced as Louis, Barbara's lover, who's content to be platonic, a real mid-century gentleman.

The book is far from flawless and most of the score forgettable but, hey, we'll always have Paris and even though 1962 and No Strings is not its finest moment, this production has its share of enchante`. n-on


Music & Lyrics: Richard Rodgers
Book: Samuel Taylor
Director: Kay Cole
Choreographer: Christine Kellogg
Music Direction: Gerald Sternbach
Cast: Sophina Brown (Barbara), Scott Bakula (David), Carla Tassara (Jeanette), Brent Schindele (Luc), Ruth Williamson (Mollie), Matthew Ashford (Mike), Joseph Culliton (Louis), Bets Malone (Comfort O'Connell), Tracy Powell (Gabrielle), John Todd (Marcello)
Scenic Design: Bradley Kaye
Costume Design: Bob Mackie and Joe McFate
Lighting Design: Steven Young
Sound Design: Philip G. Allen
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission
Running Dates: May 8-20, 2007
Where: UCLA's Freud Playhouse, McGowan Hall, Enter campus on Hilgard Avenue just south of Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, Reservations: (310) 825-2101
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on May 9.
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