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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
F. Murray Abraham is a bit too old to play Chris and, besides, his on stage passions are currently focused on rare stamps rather than random sex (Mauritius). Brooks Ashmanskaa brings enough sass, smarts and"I'm gay and I'm glad" bravado to the role to avoid a giant label of "stereotypical" from replacing the brightly lit "The Ritz " sign on the Studio 54 Stage. In fact, his Chris one of the main reasons the show still manages to have a good many Roundabout patrons in stitches. There's also Rosie Perez high stepping it into the role created for Rita Moreno — the big on ambition, infinitesimal on talent Googie Gomez. Even if, like me, you found that the first hour didn't exactly pop along at a laugh a minute speed and without showing signs of age, there's no resisting Perez's Googie when she winds up the first act by deliberately and delightfully murdering a medley of show tunes ranging from "I Could Have Danced All Night" to "Tomorrow."
Chris and Googie are just two of the major players in the show that is presented as a nostalgic reliving of a transient period of hedonistic freedom and thus essentially unchanged from the original. It relies on plunging several hetereosexuals into a gay milieu to set up the farcical fumbling and stumbling and also McNally's underlying theme (gay or straight, people are people and are the same no matter how different they may seem).
A prologue of sorts launches the farce-prone situation. A gangster is seen on his deathbed surrounded by his weeping family gasping out his dying wish: to have Gaetano Proclo (Kevin Chamberlin), the son-in-law he never approved of killed in order to end the family connection as well as reclaim Proclo's share of the family garbage collection business. The designated family hit man, is Proclo's brother-in-law Carmine (Teddy Coluca).
To escape Carmine, the roly-poly Proclo lands at The Ritz, where he's befriended by Chris, but now finds himself not only pursued by Carmine, but by Googie who thinks he's a producer as well as by Claude (Patrick Kerr) who has a thing for fat guys and turns out to have been in the army with him (don't ask—just take heart that this silliness leads to another quite funny number in which Chamberlin, Kerr and Ashmanskas do an Andrew Sisters number).
Adding to the confusion, is Michael Brick (Terrence Riordan), a hunky looking, inept detective who mistakes Proclo for his boss, Carmine who eventually also shows up in the bathhouse, to get his comeuppance as things wind up happily for everyone else. Chamberlin, who has delivered numerous memorable performances (Dirty Blonde, Wonder of the World, Seussical) is his usual drolly endearing self, but he doesn't fully come into his own until well into the second act. While Patrick Kerr catches the spirit of the obsessive Claude, Terrence Riordan's detective has yet to master the high pitched voice so that it projects in this large venue.
But why go on detailing the pros and cons of the other performers when the biggest scene stealer in this production is the scenery itself. Scott Pask's red as Hades, SINsational set will surely break the record for the number of doors (4) that a typical farce requires to accommodate the swirl of mistaken identities and hide and seek games. Besides three levels of doors leading to cubby-hole rooms, there's the steam room's glass door that swings open and shut often enough to send forth steamy hints of sexual adventures. Specifics are left to the audience's imagination, with . master costumer William Ivey Long stirring up that imagination with lots of revealing bikinis for the Ritz patrons. He and wig wizard Paul Huntley also add to the pleasure of Rosie's bravura tacky and tone deaf spoof of those already meantioned classic show tunes.
Eye-popping as the production values are, Joe Mantello's direction is uneven. While he obviously relates to McNally's work the farcical business tends to come off as labored. All those doors and cubbies actually make it difficult to maneuver the cast movements when things get really hectic. Mantello's using the balconies at either side of the stage for the bathhouse patrons during Rosie's act works well. On the other hand, given the oversized set, it seems silly to several times send them rushing up and down the aisles.
Even though it ran for a healthy 398 performances (1975-76), The Ritz probably never had quite the durability quotient of McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion!. While also a period piece, a revival seen this past summer (review) held up a lot better. On the other hand, that was an all guys show, and this one does has Rosie Perez.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
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