Happiness comes in on tip-toe
Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Direction and Choreography by Steven Smeltzer
The St. Bart’s Players (http://members.aol.com/bartsweb)
St. Bart’s Playhouse, Park Avenue and 50th Street
Non-union production (through April 29)
Review by David Mackler
The terrific songs of Kander and Ebb cannot be denied, and any chance to hear them is welcome. Director/choreographer Steven Smeltzer has over-thought the concept, and set the revue’s action, such as it is, in the lobby of a mid-town hotel – which has been smashingly designed by Anne Lommel (it’s so good, in fact, that it’s next life should be as the set for a production of Grand Hotel). But this is And the World Goes ‘Round, and Kander and Ebb are up to it.
The bulk of the mostly unknown songs here are so strong they survive the concept imposed on them (hotel guests of various backgrounds, and hotel employees of various whims), and some of the performers are so good that shows could be built around them. The songs are the key, even the slight (“Coffee in a Cardboard Cup”), the oddball (“The Rink” on, yes, roller skates), and the simple (“A Quiet Thing”). When the show tries too hard it’s a little shaky, and not all performers are well matched to their songs, but when it relaxes into the music and some stellar performers, it’s got panache.
So the title song which leads off the show is sung by a woman at the hotel bar (Tammy Williams), which leads into the hotel staff (Hope Landry, Hector Coris, Joe Nielson) singing the life affirming “Yes”, then whole company does the aforementioned “Coffee....” as guess-what is served from the bar. That cantankerous (“The trouble with the world today ...”) and caffeinated number is followed by the counterpoint (thematically) of Michael Blake’s tender remembrance of “The Happy Time”. (See, there is a through theme to the songs, never mind the hotel gimmick.) And then comes Jill Conklin’s star turn, making “Colored Lights” unexpectedly moving. She’s a fine singer and a better actor, and makes a complete scene out of this song of longing. It’s meaningful and heart wrenching, and it’s too bad that she and her husband (Blake) aren’t more central.
There are other good performances as well, Elizabeth Gravitt and Nielson do a fun “Arthur in the Afternoon”; Landry (also a fine singer and actor) has an affecting “My Coloring Book” and is joined in good counterpoint with Coris’s full-voiced “I Don’t Remember You.” Sometimes the gimmicks are regrettable (“Sara Lee,” yes, about the cake, but Scott Kerstetter helps make it fun), sometimes affecting (Dan Grinko’s “Mister Cellophane”), sometimes wonderfully funny (Conklin and Vikki Willoughby’s “Class”, Willoughby and Williams’s “The Grass is Always Greener”), sometimes simply well sung (Landry, Shane Costa, and Gravitt’s “There Goes the Ballgame”).
Sometimes it’s all about the performer (Landry’s second act opener “Ring Them Bells”), and by this time, thankfully, the concept is out the window. So the show is fine all on its own terms when Landry and Williams’s “Only Love” melts into Marc Strauss’s “Marry Me”; when Costa sings “A Quiet Thing” (“happiness comes in on tip-toe...”); and best of all when Grinko’s “We Can Make It” leads to Conklin’s smashing “Maybe This Time” leads to Gravitt’s “Isn’t This Better,” and the subsequent trio of these three songs is terrific musical theater.
Kudos are also due to Jay
Scott’s lighting (especially in “Mr. Cellophane”), and Meredith Neal’s costume design, colorful, showy, and fun. Robert Webb’s musical direction and his
small band had a good, large sound that slipped into the background when
necessary. There’s some fine, spirited dancing too (particularly by Nielson). Sure,
the old workhorse “Cabaret” shows up, as does a funny and un-annoying “
Copyright 2007 David Mackler
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