Play it again, Jeeves

You Never Can Tell

Book by Richard Rogers
Lyrics by Adriana Amendola and Paul L. Johnson
Music by Paul L. Johnson
Directed by Ray Arrucci
Musical direction by Paul L. Johnson
Choreography by Tom Coppola
Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew
262 W. 86th St. (866-4454)
Non-union production (closes Oct. 5th)
Review by John Chatterton

This homage to musicals of the '30s and '40s was entertaining on most every level, with a high standard of production for its obviously limited resources.

It concerns the doings of an artful dodger (Adrian Valeriano) who has been invited to his boss's house for the Christmas holidays, an honor traditionally associated with dismissal in the New Year. To fend off his fate, he embroils his sister, Katie (Katie Kerwin) and a friend, Jessica (Adriana Amendola) into joining him there, the latter supposedly as his grandmother. One of the scams involves dressing up as a ghost and telling the boss that he should not force marriage on his daughter (Susan Glancy) and young Stephen Towers (Ian Thomas). The butler pulls everyone's fat out of the fire in time for the finale.

The level of singing and dancing, like the energy of performance, was high. (A pity more numbers weren't delivered in full harmony.) Gregg Lauterbach as the dreaded boss and Paul Richard Kessler as the butler, Rutherford, were especially fine. Especially entertaining, in addition, was some hot dancing by the ensemble and, in particular, by the "Blackbird Girls," denizens of a swank nightclub (Gina Bergamini, Erin O'Keefe, Kierstyn Sharrow, and Kathryn Venverloh). In an amusing touch, Venverloh carried signs across the front of house during scene changes and engaged in improvised banter with a front-row gentleman singled out for the purpose.

The scenery (Jennifer Palmer), a unit set with a grand staircase and numerous draped doorways, was techniqued, or textured, within an inch of its life, a rare sign of care Off-Off-Broadway. Individual set pieces were made out of what looked like painted "E-Z Curve," a touch that somewhat jarred with the overall effect but did so without ruining it. The costumes (Suzanne Satchel) showed an attention to period, character, and flexibility. Lighting, because there was no grid, came mostly from lights hung from the balcony rail, lending the proceedings a one-dimensional, cabaret quality (technical director, Jason Quinn).

The lyrics are well-constructed in rhyme and meter and go well with the hummable and varied music. The book, intentionally a Depression-era retread, lacks any ironic or contemporary point of view, and so, ultimately, remains an exercise in writing a Depression-era musical. Jeffrey's endless, manic pranks soon grow stale. (Though his song, "I'm a Louse," goes far to explain him as a character. In general, the songs advanced the purposes of the book.)

Ray Arrucci did a solid job of moving and shaping huddled masses on a cramped stage, although too often actors in the ensemble upstaged others with speaking parts. (Also featuring Aileen-Marie Barry, Cara Burdick, Margaret Callery, Parker Esse, Stephen Kaplan, John Kimick, Chris Prinzo, Larry Z. Slater, and Kimberly Villanueva.)

Box Score:
Writing 1 (Book 1, Lyrics 2, Music 2)
Performance 1 (Acting 1, Singing 2, Dancing 2)
Directing 1
Set 2
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 1

Copyright 1997 John Chatterton