By Irving Berlin & Moss Hart
Directed by Thomas Mills
Mainstage at the 14th Street YMHA
344 East 14th St. (362-0713)
Equity showcase (closes June 23)
Review by Elias Stimac
If you love old-fashioned musicals, or if you love old-time New York, race right down and Face the Music. This rarely revived chestnut is being presented in a concert-reading setting by the folks at Musicals Tonight!, and the results are positively upbeat.
The backstage musical, from the prolific composer/lyricist Irving Berlin and the equally productive playwright Moss Hart, opened on Broadway in 1932 and ran for 165 performances. It was an optimistic antidote to the Great Depression, and lightheartedly looked at how the upscale Manhattanites and theatre artists tried to cope during those financial hard times.
A precursor to The Producers, the show is basically about a Broadway producer who is deliberately trying to put on a flop. Nobody is investing in shows in the wake of the depressing Depression, so theatre maven Hal Reisman (Randall Frizado) and stunning starlet Kit Baker (Nanne Puritz) turn to the only group they know who has money -- crooked cops. Along with Kit's boyfriend Pat (Alan Gillespie, valiantly substituting at the last minute for Julian Dean), they convince a group of bribe-taking policemen to launder their dirty money by backing a show. The production is Rhinestones of 1932, and it's appropriately bad. When the cops need their money back, the only way to salvage the show is to dirty it up with risqué numbers -- turning the musical into a hit. Unfortunately, the Vice Commission doesn't think so.
The creative team of director/choreographer Thomas Mills, music director/vocal arranger Mark Hartman, and additional choreographers Vanessa Lemonides and Patrick Boyd have done wonders with the dated material, making it sound fresh and funny again (it didn't hurt that many of the members of the audience were around back in the 1930s). The show is long, but some of the extra songs cut from the original -- particularly "The Police of New York") -- were worth the added running time.
The cast was accomplished both as actors and singers. Frizado was ready to take on the Nathan Lane role in The Producers after his bravado performance here. Puritz was a delectable delight, and Gillespie held his own in the unfamiliar role. Other standouts included David Beris as an indelibly impossible policeman, Cynthia Collins as a hilarious torch singer, Lemonides and Boyd as a diehard dancing duo, and especially Virginia Seidel, who portrayed the wide-eyed wealthy wife with such underplayed comic subtlety and timing that she stole every scene she was in.
The rest of the ensemble showed multiple talents in support, and included Larry Brustofski, Nora Edie, Judy Fitzgerald, Tiffany Hampton, Barry James, David Macaluso, T.J. Mannix, Tory Ross, and Stephan Stubbins.
This is a bare-bones production, so sets by Stan Pearlman and costumes from the TDF Costume Collection were simply suggested. Shih-hui Wu was responsible for the minimal lighting requirements.
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Copyright 2002 Elias Stimac