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A CurtainUp Review
Once Around the City

by Les Gutman
That's our garden. We make it grow.... What's good for the plants may be bad for a few ants.
---Willie Reale, referring to the New York City skyline

Let us pause for a moment and remember the Eighties. As we walk around the scaffolding and look up at the cranes that seem to occupy every block of the Theater District nowadays, it takes a moment to recall that decade of greed and its mindset. (OK, maybe it isn't that much of a stretch.)

It is that era of the "haves" and the "have nots" with which Once Around the City concerns itself. The "haves" are represented by the owners and employees of Brandebaine Brothers: real estate developers who see dollar signs in all that steel and glass, and who see red when they run into those ugly "holdouts" who are slowing up the "progress" represented by their city block scale projects. The "have nots" are a group of charming but poor men for whom the only thing that's likely to trickle down is some water from a leaky pipe. They are lead by an equally appealing young woman named Gwen (Jane Bodle), their landlord at the Back on Your Feet Hotel. Brandebaine, you may have guessed by now, is desperate to get its hands on the land the hotel sits on.

This is light-hearted musical comedy, likable in many respects but fundamentally silly, so the first order of business is to get thee in the right mindset. That includes foregoing not only any reality check on the plight of the homeless or others less fortunate than oneself, but also any expectations of great theater. That said, Once Around the City can be an enjoyable summer night out.

Mr. Brandebaine (William Parry) makes a deal with his future son-in-law, David (Michael Magee). If he can separate Gwen from the hotel she is resolved to keep operating, he'll be the next president of the firm, and get a handsome bonus to boot. David, naturally, concocts a scheme to do just that: he goes to the hotel impersonating a man down on his luck (but still wearing his expensive suit), sweet talks Gwen into letting his friend Hank (Geoffrey Nauffts) solve her property tax problems and, before you know it, has the deed to the property in hand. The only hitch, as you might also have guessed by now (this being light-hearted musical comedy and all), is that David falls in love with Gwen, gets a case of the guilts, gets kicked out of the firm and his fiancëe Elizabeth's (Brandy Zarle) apartment and has to concoct an equally cockamamie scheme to get the hotel back. As one of the songs tells us, "People Change". If you need to ask what happens, you're in the wrong mindset.

The Reale brothers, who collaborated on this show (as they did on Quark Victory, review linked below) have filled the stage with all sorts of exaggerated -- but funny -- characters and situations. There are the amoral real estate types, the hapless but lovable hotel residents, a homeless man named Charlie (also William Parry) who acts as a sort of master of ceremonies, and even the seemingly obligatory fey musical theater type, Nicky (Harry Althaus), who will enlist the residents first in a show for a benefit sponsored by Elizabeth and her society friends and later for the benefit of David's double cross. (In the latter, they will impersonate gangsters from Toledo. Q: "What's Toledo like?" A: "Akron.") Ba-dum.

Robert Reale's jazzy score is tuneful if not particularly relevant, and interspersed with enough variety to give everyone a decent workout. (Jane Bogle, as an example, is given a nice song called "Saturday" to show off her talents.) Brother Willie's lyrics maintain the show's comic sensibility well, even if they exploit it to get through some manufactured rhymes that would make hardcore musical types cringe. (But remember: Passion this is not.) His book is clear, straightforward if sometimes unmercifully goofy; Mark Linn-Baker's direction maintains the right tone throughout. No one is taking all of this too seriously, but there's plenty of hard work on display. All of the design elements are right, and the sound designer ought to be congratulated for not overmiking the singers or letting the band get the upper hand.

Although there are no major names among the cast, there are plenty of fine performers in this cast. Particularly noteworthy are Joe Grifasi (as the dim-witted but sweet Mario, who gets an oddly out-of-place solo called "My House" to sing), Michael Potts (as the irascible Rudy) and Ms. Bogle. And just about everyone, even the bad guys, seem to be having fun.

Quark Victory

Once Around the City
Book and lyrics by Willie Reale
Music by Robert Reale
Directed by Mark Linn-Baker
with Harry Althaus, Jane Bodle, John Bowman, Peter Jay Fernandez, Patrick Garner, Joe Grifasi, Michael Magee, Michael Mandell, Geoffrey Nauffts, William Parry, Michael Potts, Sandra Shipley, Anna Stone, Anne Torsiglieri and Brandy Zarle
Set Design: Adrienne Lobel
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Costume Design: Paul Tazewell
Sound Design: Jon Weston
Music Direction and Orchestrations: Rick Fox
Choreorgraphy: Jennifer Muller
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes including one intermission
Second Stage Theatre, 307 West 43rd Street (@8 Av.)
Telephone (212) 246-4422
Opening July 10, 2001, closing July 22, 2001
Tues, Thurs - Sat @8, Wed @2 and 7, Sat @2, Sun @3; $35-50 (limited student rush tickets 30 minutes before curtain, $10
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 7/8/01 performance
Musical Numbers
Act 1

"A Day in New York"
"An Awful Lot of Good"
"Lord I'm Grateful"
"Nobody Can Touch Me"
"Once Around the City

Act 2

"Under the Tuxedo"
"My House"
"No More Mr. Nice Guy"
"Another Day in New York" (reprise)
"People Change"
"Bad Guys from Toledo"
"People Change" / "Once Around the City" (reprise)

The Broadway Theatre Archive


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