Better and better

Lady, Be Good

Book by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson
Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Directed and choreographed by Thomas Mills
Musical direction and vocal arrangements by James Stenborg
Musicals Tonight!
Mainstage at the 14th Street YMHA
344 East 14th St. (212/362-5620)
Equity showcase (closes June 1)
Review by Jade Esteban Estrada

George and Ira Gershwin wrote some of the most memorable music in musical theatre history. Proof of their longevity was displayed at the Mainstage at the 14th Street YMHA in the Musicals Tonight! production of Lady, Be Good. This musical was jam-packed with show-stopping dance numbers and the kind of music you can't help but hum all the way back to the train station. You'll probably be tapping as well. You've been warned.

The production first opened at the Liberty Theatre on Broadway in December 1924 (yes, 1924). It revolves around an out-of-work sister/brother dance team who find both money and romance while entertaining in the homes of the very wealthy. Set in New England in "high society," the story is full of fun Three's Company-esque situations that seemed to keep the audience engaged.

The shock at the sight of held scripts at the top of the show was quickly alleviated by the bringing on of the first song-and-dance number, Hang on to me, between Dick (Jeffry Denman) and Susie (Nancy Lemenager). Using the scripts within the choreography was clever and a bit of a relief.

Ridiculously talented Doug Shapiro played the meddling Watty Watkins, whose self-serving manner gets everyone in trouble at one time or another during the course of the show. The comic actor's timing was consistently clean and lively.

Denman (who is responsible for the choreography in Naked Boys Singing! Off-Broadway) charmed the audience with his innocent demeanor and lithe movement, which seemed to include the option to fly if the need ever arose. His dancing was pure magic, and his singing voice was like velvet -- and yet potent in its effectiveness.

Although the song "Fascinating Rhythm" is the most recognizable song in the show, the choreography seemed tame. But director Thomas Mills made up for that in most of the other numbers, which were dazzling and sophisticated. "Little Jazz Bird" was the sexiest number in the show, thanks to a stunning female ensemble and the show's powerhouse leading man. These girls had great extension!

With such a huge cast it seemed impressive that such performers could manage to leave their marks in such defining ways. Andrew Rasmussen's tapping in the first act was delightful, and Malina Linkas (who played Denman's love interest, Shirley) brought a contemporary sound to the score that was refreshing. Doug Wynn's portrayal of Jack Robinson was enduring, and his vocals were sung beautifully.

The set of the production was very basic but was successful visually. You do need that couch to dance on top of in a show like this after all.

Costumes were simple but also effective. Lemenager's Mexican costume was colorful and festive, as was Todd Buonopane's Mexican hat and gun as the comical Manuel Estrada (not to mention that his portrayal of Rufus Parke was really funny). No matter what they brought in for props, though, the actors seemed to need three hands to deal with the scripts.

Jim Stenborg's interaction between his piano-playing with the cast was hilarious, while Shih-hui Wu's lighting design was a tad uninspired, although the cast did need bright lighting to read!

Special mention also goes to producer Mel Miller's long but animated speech before curtain, which was a show in itself.

The show also included Amy Barker, Jennifer Bernstone, Lindsay Chambers, Kurt Domoney, Jennifer Mackenzie Dunne, Leo Ash Evens, Brian Hedden, Thomas-David McDonald, Ginette Rhodes, Tom Sellwood and Jennifer Sharon Taylor. Dick and Susie choreography by Jeffry Denman and Nancy Lemenager.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Performance: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 Jade Esteban Estrada