Garson Kanin based his libretto for Do Re Mi on his 1955 book of the same name which was written at the height of the juke box wars. The 1999 New York City Center Encores! revival was described as a combination of Guys and Dolls and Bye Bye Birdie and that still seems an accurate summary. Hubie Cram is a minor con artist always looking for the big deal. His long-suffering wife reminds him that there are still thirty three hundred hula hoops in her father’s garage from an earlier deal that went south. When he discovers the juke box racket is legitimate, he reconnects with three pals, Fitzo (the brawn), Brains (the cerebrum) and Skin (the money) and they buy 200 used juke boxes. However, they discover that the music promotion business goes hand in hand with it for songs to play in the machines. When they find a new singer, Tilda Mullen, they attempt to make her a star. It turns out that promoter John Henry Wheeler has the business all sewn up. When he falls in love with Tilda, things get out of hand. Hubie becomes a celebrity briefly but discovers that all he can count on is his loyal wife.
The storyline is an uneasy combination of petty racketeers and the inner workings of the music industry. While the jukebox wars plot seems dated now when most people use an iPod to download their own choices, the Damon Runyan characters seem inauthentic. Kanin’s use of street vernacular always sounds like it is in quotes. While this is the show that introduced the hit, “Make Someone Happy,” most of the Styne/Comden & Green songs sound like second rate versions of their greater efforts.
In the roles created for consummate comedians Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker, the protagonist Hubie Cram, small time con-artist, and his devoted wife Kay, Patrick John Moran and Laura Daniel work too hard to deliver on the comedy. Moran does put his talents to good use in the first act finale, “The Late, Late Show” where he impersonates a series of Hollywood legends. Singing Walker’s famous number, “Adventure,” Daniel plays it as though it were written for Merman and comes on too strong.
As new discovery Tilda Mullen, Beth DeMichele reveals an admirable vocal range but a little voice so that she doesn’t sell the haunting “Cry like the Wind” or the comic “What’s New at the Zoo.” Playing music promoter John Henry Wheeler, Tyler Milliron demonstrates a large legit voice in “I Know about Love,” “Asking for You,” and “Make Someone Happy,” but he is stiff as a board in an admittedly paper thin and underwritten role. As the former thugs that Hubie brings into the jukebox business, Daniel Marcus, Roger Rifkin and Michael Scott all seem to be playing watered-down versions of the more colorful characters from Damon Runyan’s Guys and Dolls.
Director Donald Brenner keeps the pace fluid though he is unable to solve the problems of the show. As a choreographer, he has struck it rich with the “All You Need Is a Quarter” ballet with the neighborhood kids jiving in the ice-cream parlor scene, but his staging of the night club act, “What’s New at the Zoo” fails to deliver. David B. Bishop as music director does yeoman service at the piano throughout the performance without making a case for this as a lost treasure.
It is always interesting to see the minor work of major talents. With the input of Garson Kanin, Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, De Re Mi falls into this category. Musicals Tonight! offers a solid revival without appreciably increasing the reputation of this rarely seen show.
Do Re Mi (through April 3, 2016)
The Lion Theatre, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.MusicalsTonight.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission