In 1948, That’s The Ticket! boasted a terrific team: director Jerome Robbins, librettists Julius and Philip Epstein (Casablanca), and composer/lyricist Harold Rome. It lasted a week in Philadelphia and was quickly forgotten. It has now received its New York premiere in Thomas Mills’s staged reading for Mel Miller’s Musicals Tonight! -- an invaluable series for musicals fans offering staged readings of “lost” shows in an intimate space with a modest-sized cast, a piano, and a minimal set.
The plot comprises a medieval knight, Alfred, who was turned into a frog and promised release if the tears of a maiden fell on him 1000 years later. Enter the weepy Patricia in 1948, daughter of Vale-Waterhouse, whose party is looking for a clueless, old-fashioned candidate to front their presidential campaign.… Suffice it to say that the course of true love -- and political success -- is jeopardized by the introduction of a femme fatale, Marcia Leroux. The piece has charm, energy, and entertaining songs; it also has rather obvious satire (unsavory politicians -- what’s new?) and somewhat laborious running gags (anachronisms, crooked politicians in madcap situations).
Stan Pearlman’s set was simple but functional: a huge moon backdrop, basic furniture to define interiors, and painted signs to announce locations. Costumes comprised dark outfits with a splash of color in ties or scarves, with Patricia and Marcia in strappy evening dresses and Alfred in an amusing fabric approximation of armor. Mills’s staging was similarly low-key, and while the dialog scenes did flag at times -- the show is ultimately a farce and could have done with a snappier pace -- this was balanced by lively staging of key numbers and amusing touches like the talking frog. Mills’s choreography managed to suggest more elaborate numbers than space and cast size permitted and made a virtue of necessity, incorporating scripts as percussive instruments or dance props.
The cast -- including the energetic chorus -- made up in choice moments what they lacked in depth of characterization. George S. Irving (an original cast member in 1948) was a suitably curmudgeonly Vale-Waterhouse -- perking up for “The Money Song” -- and David Staller made an amusing Alfred, all naive arrogance and blank incomprehension. Rome’s neglected score -- jaunty melodies with witty, urbane lyrics -- includes some original touches: “Cry Baby,” a song that inverts the classic “cheer up” songs (backing refrain: “Boo hoo, Boo hoo”) and the vision of Marcia as President (“In the land of the Free and the Brave / Long Live the Permanent Wave”). The best songs are saved for the female leads. Rita Harvey’s purity of voice helped Patricia make the transition from coy romantic (even after 1000 years, “Love is still Love”) to genuine emotion (“Dost thou”). The role of Marcia is clearly written as a star turn, and Carter Calvert attacked it with energy, an amalgam of Mae West and Monroe, winking and slinking her way through terrific numbers from her big entrance to a vampy seduction (“a determined woman and a Northwest mountain always get their man”) and the surprisingly torchy reflection on love (“You never know what hit you”).
Inventive, cheeky and unashamedly light entertainment, That’s The Ticket! represents a type of musical comedy that’s an integral part of the American theatre tradition. New York fans of musicals pre-Webber and pre-Sondheim should seize the chance to see this frothy, knowing show in Mills’s energetic and affectionate revival. Even after 54 years, a good song is still a good song.
Music & lyrics: 2
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Copyright 2000 Miranda Lundskaer-Nielsen