He's right: They can't be wrong!

Fifty Million Frenchmen

By Cole Porter
Directed by Thomas Mills
Musicals Tonight!
Mainstage at the 14th St. Y
344 East 14th Street (362-5620)
Equity showcase (varied schedule; closes Dec. 16)
Review by Doug DeVita

No other composer/lyricist defines the swank sophistication of the Broadway musical of the 1930s better than Cole Porter. His string of hits that spanned the years between 1929 and '39 began with Fifty Million Frenchmen, which opened barely a month after the stock market crash and ran for approximately seven months.

Fifty Million Frenchmen is a silly soufflé of a show, Herbert Field's book a typical late '20s hodgepodge that uses Paris as the backdrop for a standard "boy-meets-loses-and-gets-girl" story. But Porter's score, which includes "You Do Something To Me," is a marvelous example of the genius that was to pour forth from the composer almost unceasingly for the next decade. There are charm songs and novelty songs, and of course several achingly beautiful ballads, that all display the dexterous ingenuity with both music and lyrics that made Porter great. And with the utmost simplicity, Thomas Mills and Musicals Tonight! brought both Porter and his beloved "La Ville Lumiere" back to bubbly life in their concert version of the show, easily their best entry to date.

Everything moved with grace and precision, the performances of the cast were uniformly delightful (more on them later), and the whole affair sparkled like a vintage Moet. Mills, always creative in minimizing the books-in-hand approach (an unfortunately necessary evil in these productions), outdid himself with this one, in one instance using them as scenic devices to conjure up images of famous Parisian landmarks. He was ably supported by Barbara Anselmi's impeccable musical direction, and a physical production that evoked the time and place of the musical as well as the growing sophistication of Musicals Tonight! as a producing entity. (Stan Pearlman utilized colorful placards as set pieces and props, the black-and-white costumes were courtesy of the TDF Costume Collection, and the pure-white lighting was provided by stage manager Joshua Dunn.)

And then there was that cast! As an ensemble, they were a giddily intoxicating force, as individuals, from the largest to the smallest role no detail was overlooked in the creation of lovably memorable characters. Together and apart, Susan Owen and Julian Rebolledo were deftly appealing as LooLoo and Peter, the on again/off again lovers; Celia Tackaberry was grand good fun as a Midwestern dowager in search of a titled husband for her daughter; and Amy Goldberger was a show-stopping, scene-stealing pleasure as a brassy, bored American dame. But the top honors went to Garrett Long, a last-minute replacement as Joyce, LooLoo's wisecracking best friend. Fresh from a critically lauded turn in The Spitfire Grill, Long fit seamlessly into the ensemble, performing with as much élan as if she had been involved in the show from the very beginning, and her presence, voice, and comic timing displayed an actress in total command of her considerable ability - she was an absolute joy. (Note to Kathleen Marshall: if Donna Murphy is unavailable to recreate her role in the forthcoming revival of Wonderful Town, Long is your girl!)

With the holiday season looming, there's hardly anything more cheering than an evening spent with Fifty Million Frenchmen, a gift from Musicals Tonight! to a city that needs to laugh, to relax, and to remember that New York, like Paris, also has a tradition of fun, light, and swank sophistication. Thank you! You did (and do) something to (and for) everyone!

(Also featuring Renee Bang Allen, Cynthia Collins, John Alban Coughlan, Gina Holland, Todd Jones, Nathan Klau, David Macaluso, Matthew Morgan, Marni Ratner, Kilty Reidy, and Jeff Wells.)

Box Score:

Book: 1 Music: 2 Lyrics: 2
Directing: 2
Musical Direction: 2
Performance: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita