The Gershwins’ bright and bouncy musical comedy has had a checkered history. Although it ran 256 performances on Broadway and played in London, both of which starred English actress Gertrude Lawrence, it was never made into a movie unlike several of their hit shows. The 1990 David Merrick revival turned it into an All-Black nightclub show, adding six songs to the score plus one cut song, but it was not a critical or popular success. When next the bootlegging plotline returned to Broadway, it was as the rewritten Nice Work If You Can Get It with a new book by Joe DiPietro and salvaged only one song from the original score.
From the evidence of Colgan’s Musicals Tonight! production, “Oh, Kay!” not only still works in the original but has a glorious score including such Gershwin classics as “Dear Little Girl,” “Clap Yo’ Hands,” “Do, Do, Do,” “Fidgety Feet,” “Heaven on Earth” and “Someone to Watch over Me.” The three songs cut from the original production (“When Our Ship Comes Sailing in,” “Ain’t It Romantic?”, and “Stiff Upper Lip” used in the film A Damsel in Distress) while not lost treasures are very pleasing lyrics and melodies.
Like the Gershwins’ Girl Crazy, Lady Be Good and Funny Face, all more familiar from famous film versions, Oh, Kay! has one of those farcical plots that only happen in pre-Oklahoma! musical-comedies of the 1920’s and 30’s. Impoverished English lord and bootlegger, the Duke of Durham, along with his henchmen Larry Potter and Shorty McGee, has been storing 500 cases of prohibition liquor in the basement of an unoccupied Long Island beach house owned by Jimmy Winter. Complications arise when Jimmy returns suddenly from his second marriage to beautiful gold-digger and social climber Constance Applegate.
Unfortunately for the couple, Jimmy receives a telegram from his lawyer as soon as he arrives informing him that his annulment from his first wife had not gone through. After Connie leaves scandalized for the local inn in a huff, in walks Kay Durham, the bootlegger’s sister, hiding out from the rain – and a revenue officer who knows she is off of the rumrunner that her brother owns. Jimmy and Kay immediately recognize each other from an incident the previous summer when Kay saved Jimmy from drowning. Jimmy has been in love with her all this time but never found out her name. When the revenue officer comes calling, Kay pretends that she is Jimmy’s new wife and has to stay the night. Things get more complicated the following day with the arrivals of Connie, her father Judge Applegate, the Duke and the revenue officer who keeps interrupting the romantic comings and goings. All end happily with the right couples joined in marriage.
To pull off such a farcical plot requires accomplished acting, singing and dancing which Musicals Tonight! has in spades. As Jimmy Winter, Nicolas Dromard is a charming, debonair hero with a pleasant light tenor. In the title role, Elizabeth Broadhurst as the ubiquitous Kay is a delicious creation getting completely into the style of this 1920’s show. Demonstrating her high soprano, she gets to sing the show’s most famous song, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” along with the duets “Maybe,” “Do Do, Do,” and “Ain’t It Romantic?,” as well as the title song. Her English accent never falters even during her many musical numbers. Shelby Ringdahl as the gold-digging Constance is overbearing enough to make us wish that she does not end up with Jimmy.
As bootlegger Larry Porter, Nic Thompson proves himself to be a bravura tap dancer with “Fidgety Feet” as well as being able to perform a mean Charleston, often in combo with Samantha Gershman and Meghan Glowager as the vivacious Ruston Twins. He is often backed by the female ensemble (Sarah Claire Smith, Katie Mcbane Harvey, Maria Briggs and Desiree Davar) all of whose precision is breathtaking. Much of the low comedy falls to Nick Locilento as bootlegger turned butler Shorty McGee whose jokes land where they should. Howard Kaye turns in an appropriately thuggish Revenue Officer, while Danny Vaccaro out Englishs the English as the Duke down on his luck.
The lighting design by Courtney Megaro magically highlights the duets and solos, while music director and vocal arranger James Stenborg gives able support with a light, syncopated touch at the piano. The uncredited costumes are a colorful, coordinated feast for the eye, which is enhanced by the black box setting. However, it is Casey Colgan’s cool, sharp direction that makes this such a splendid revival of an extremely light-weight bouncy musical comedy graced by its gorgeous and melodic Gershwin score.
Oh, Kay! (through October 25, 2015)
The Lion Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets or information, call Telecharge at 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.musicalstonight.org