Set in Prohibition-era New York City, The New Yorkers: A Sociological Musical Satire is stale, musty and flat. It’s a typically lightweight tale that was an emblematic staple of that period, used as a showcase for songs and gags.
A ditzy heiress falls in love with a sexy gangster, causing outlandish complications among zany characters. Locales range from glamorous nightclubs, a swanky apartment, and Sing Sing prison. It’s no Anything Goes or even Panama Hattie.
Herbert Fields’s book was based on a story by E. Ray Goetz and New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno. This clunky concert adaptation by Jack Viertel is crammed with double entendres, puns, anachronisms, and contemporary inside jokes that mostly thud.
Director John Rando’s polished staging injects as much flashiness and fun as possible to this Encores! revival. Mr. Rando commendably strives to elevate the arch material, and he has expertly coordinated the high caliber production elements.
A Busby Berkeley-style production number with cast members holding large turkey legs is sensational, and is a highlight of Chris Bailey’s delightfully witty and energetic choreography. There’s also a flying sequence with cast members brandishing wooden, painted clouds and airplane propellers. Mr. Bailey has a lot of terrific tap dancing throughout, and he emulates the monumental inventiveness of Tommy Tune.
A purple slip, red boxer shorts, gold, black and sliver gowns and flapper dresses, feathers, sequins, top hats and white tie and tails are all exquisitely on display due to Alejo Vietti’s eye catching costume design.
The chief feature of Allen Moyer’s simple scenic design are the luxurious, flowing, white curtains that frame the stage with an Art Deco atmosphere befitting Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers.
Ken Billington’s lighting design is lively. The sound design by Dan Moses Schreier perfectly balances the tones of the music with the effects, such as the plentiful gunshots.
Music Director Rob Berman superbly leads The Encores! orchestra in performing Porter’s beautiful melodies that he arranged. Mr. Berman also jovially appears in some of the action during the nightclub scenes.
Music coordinator Seymour Red Press and the orchestrations by Josh Clayton and Larry Moore all contribute to the strong rendition of the score.
That is a problematic matter. It’s an unsatisfying patchwork of songs Porter wrote originally for the show, some specialty material numbers written by its star Jimmy Durante, one by Charles Henderson and Fred Waring, and five later Porter songs from other shows.
“Night and Day” written for The Gay Divorce in 1932, is one of these that are disjointedly shoe horned in. Another is “Let’s Not Talk About Love” from the 1941 show, Let’s Face It that’s filled with topical references that don’t make sense in the timeline of this show.
“Love For Sale,” “Take Me Back to Manhattan” and “I Happen to Like New York” are the three Porter classics that the show introduced.
The large cast embraces the silliness of their characters with overall enjoyable results.
In a variety of stock character roles, Eddie Korbich is consistently hilarious. Lisping with a Spanish accent as a nightclub emcee, an Irish cop, a kooky doctor and a cranky waiter at a delicatessen are all outlets for Mr. Korbich’s very welcome theatrics.
The blonde, sleek and captivating Scarlett Strallen has screwball comedy dynamism as the heiress Alice Wentworth.
Those always reliable farceurs, Byron Jennings and Ruth Williamson are pleasantly daffy as Ms. Strallen’s droll, high society parents who are in an open marriage.
Rugged Tam Mutu is very appealing as the amorous gangster Monahan. Wearing a British naval uniform, Tyler Lansing Weaks makes for a marvelous, handsome dolt. Todd Buonopane winningly plays a starchy fiancé.
Mylinda Hull and Robyn Hurder alluringly excell as dames involved in the antics.
Straining for effect, Kevin Chamberlin uneasily channels Jimmy Durante as the nightclub performer crucial to the criminal hijinks.
Arnie Burton leadenly overplays as the effete kingpin Feet McGeegan who in a running gag gets continuously shot.
The rest of the ensemble brightly performs a host of subsidiary parts with their snappy singing and dancing talents.
The New Yorkers: A Sociological Musical Satire opened on Broadway on Dec 08, 1930, and closed after 168 performances on May 2, 1931. This Encores! reconstruction has not unearthed a forgotten masterpiece, or an entertaining trifle, but reveals a dated curio of mild interest.
The New Yorkers (March 22 – 26, 2017)
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 and 30 minutes with one intermission