Music & lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Bella & Samuel Spewack
Directed by Thomas Mills
Musicals Tonight!, 344 E. 14th St.
Equity showcase (closes April 1)
Review by Adrienne Onofri
With his sexually suggestive and name-dropping lyrics, Cole Porter was ahead of his time. But was any of his work as foresighted as Leave It to Me? The plot revolves around a simpleton with pronunciation difficulties and a fondness for nicknames whose financial assets and family connections secure him a high government position; he's in over his head on the job, and others seem to do the work for him.
That inauspicious leader would be Alonzo "Stinky" Goodhue, Topeka bathtub salesman-turned-U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union. Though his character presaged the White House occupant of 2001, the show is dated in other respects-from its naive humor about the German army and Mussolini to its outmoded gender roles like the browbeaten husband, the sugar daddy and the all-male press corps. But the show's quaintness can be appreciated as representative of the era, when Broadway musicals still bore the influence of vaudeville. Its typically frivolous elements include both a character (Lois Saunders) who serves solely as a comic device, disappearing from the story before the end of Act 1, and a finale that instantaneously reunites every couple.
Leave It to Me deserves a re-airing every now and then if only for its significance in musical theater history: It was the first collaboration between Porter and the Spewacks, who went on to create Kiss Me, Kate together, and it made a star of an ingenue named Mary Martin. As in the original production, the musical highlight here was Act 2's "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," sung by the adorable Jamie Day as the ditzy blonde Dolly. Day possesses all the talents and affability requisite for musical theater stardom: While this role demonstrated her skill in character parts, she also has the voice and looks for a more serious, romantic role.
Casting director Stephen DeAngelis must be praised for finding all the right types for the Leave It to Me cast-not just Day, but also short, balding Kenny Morris as the bumbling nerd Goodhue; brassy Robin Baxter as his domineering social climber of a wife; handsome Michael Scott as a philandering newsman; flame-haired Barbara McCulloh as Day's more exotic and mature rival for Scott's affections; and Gordon Connell, whose physical and memory gaffes may not have been intentional but fit his geezer character. Among those playing multiple roles, John Wasiniak deserves recognition for his versatility with accents, and J. Michael McCormack and Ed Smit also provided accented comic relief. Chorus numbers were buoyed by the vivacious ensemble.
Although well-suited for their parts, the performers were constrained by the staged-reading format, since holding their scripts prevented them from using their hands and arms. In addition, the slapstick in Act 1 could not be presented effectively because of the distracting scripts and restricted movements. The scaled-down production did have sufficient props and set, and the costumes (one to a performer) were appropriate and embellished when needed-with a turban and babushka, among other things.
(Also featuring Keith Benedict, Courtney Blythe, Liz Casasola, Christine Gonzales, Blythe Gruda, L.J. Mitchell, Seth Muse, Kurt Robbin, Will Woodrow. Musical director, Mark Hartman. Lighting, Shuhei Seo)
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Copyright 2001 Adrienne Onofri