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Lady, Be Good!

Tommy Tune’s two song and dance numbers are the grand highlights of this very well presented revival of The Gershwins’ frothy first musical from 1924.

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Tommy Tune and company in a scene from The Gershiwns’ “Lady, Be Good!” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Tommy Tune and company in a scene from The Gershwins’ “Lady, Be Good!” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Lady, Be Good! is a minor, breezy, Roaring Twenties romantic musical comedy about a good-natured ne’er-do-well brother and sister, penniless socialites, who crash a garden party in the hopes of some nourishment. There’s a crooked lawyer, an eccentric millionaire, a haughty society woman, flappers, a scheming stereotypical Mexican in a poncho and sombrero, an inept detective, impersonation, and mistaken identity.  The settings include a garden party at a Rhode Island estate, a resort hotel and a yacht club, both in Connecticut.

Starring Fred and Adele Astaire, and with the first Broadway score by composer George Gershwin and his lyricist brother Ira, it opened in 1924, and was a hit running 330 performances.  The 1926 London production also with The Astaires was equally successful running 326 performances.  The score contains a couple of standards and a lot of pleasant but accomplished filler.  1924 was also the year that Rhapsody in Blue was first heard.

This New York City Center Encores! concert staging revival renders it as a delightful, very well presented trifle. The actors carry scripts that they rarely refer to and sometimes mirthfully do. Its been adapted from the Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson’s original book by Encores! artistic director Jack Viertel. Typical of shows of that era, it means a first act crammed with exposition and zany plot complications all rapidly resolved in a fast-paced second act.

One of the chief pleasures here is the first appearance in more than 30 years by the legendary Tommy Tune in a New York City musical.  Since his Tony Award-winning leading role in the Broadway Gershwin revisal, My One and Only in 1983, he’s directed, choreographed, made special appearances, toured in musicals and periodically performs a nightclub act.

He plays an entertainer at the garden party and at the hotel.  In a three-piece red neon suit, he sings and taps “Fascinating Rhythm” solo and then with the ensemble.  In the second act, he’s in a blue neon suit and a straw boater with a blue bird on top to sing and tap “Little Jazz Bird.”  After leaving the stage, he pops out from the wings, doffs the hat, revealing a gold star inside.  It’s symbolic as he embodies the old time, unique star quality Broadway is known for.

Soon to be 76 years old, Tune is still a fabled 6’ 6” tall, and is still beaming and boyish.  With his assured dancing, tunefully sweet singing, and charismatic presence, his two numbers were the show’s grand highlights.

Patti Murin and Danny Gardner in a scene from The Gershwins' “Lady, Be Good!” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Patti Murin and Danny Gardner in a scene from The Gershwins’ “Lady, Be Good!” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Danny Gardner and Patti Murin winningly take on the sibling roles created by The Astaires.  Mr. Gardner has an animatedly expressive gaunt face and performs several terrific tap dance numbers.  Ms. Murrin has a lovely and quirky presence.  Both deliver playful, anachronistic wide-eyed boy and girl musical comedy characterizations.

Douglas Sills is a comic steamroller of exaggerated suaveness as the larcenous lawyer and wonderfully sings the title song.  Colin Donnell as the pedigreed hobo perfectly fits in with his excellent performing talents.  In the dual roles of the wily Mexican and as a stuffy gentleman, Richard Poe delivers a hilarious supporting performance.

Jennifer Laura Thompson, Kirsten Wyatt, Jeff Hiller and Erin Mackey are among the fine cast and ensemble that all skillfully play the numerous period stock characters.

The efforts of director Mark Brokaw and choreographer Randy Skinner yield a visually engaging and brisk show, composed of corny book scenes and a number of terrific production numbers.

The limitations of a concert staging are enhanced by the clever and purposeful work of scenic consultant Anna Louizos and costume consultant Michael Krass.  From the beaded black flapper dresses, Mexican getups, and tail coats, to the painted trees, paper lanterns, and hanging streamers, it’s an inspired vision of antiquated simplicity.  All the events are precisely highlighted by Ken Billington’s keen lighting design.

During the overture and entr’acte, guest music director and conductor Rob Fisher and The Encores! Orchestra made it feel like a Gershwin concert with their superb musicianship.  Their high level of performance was evident throughout the entire show.

The fanciful orchestrations are a combination of the small amount of surviving originals and the work of orchestrator Bill Elliott, and music coordinator Seymour Red Press.

From Rob Fisher’s program notes:

Adele Astaire initially had reservations about the show’s “tacky book” and “weak plot.”  Fred reassured her that “the whole thing had a new look to it, a flow and also a new sound.” 

This charming incarnation supports the views of both Astaires, and has the effect of discovering an unearthed time capsule from 1924. 

Lady, Be Good!  (through February 8th, 2015)

New York City Center Encores!

New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.nycitycenter.org

Running time: two hours with one intermission

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Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (549 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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