Flappers at the Goodspeed Opera House
East Haddam, Conn.
After an aside to a new musical about Noel Coward entitled, not surprisingly, "Noel," the Goodspeed Opera House is offering a charming re-creation of "Funny Face."
It is Goodspeed at a reliable level, but without the real style, the superb attention to detail, the fine overall look that we have begun to take for granted.
George Gershwin wrote the songs. His brother, Ira, created the lyrics. As shows go, "Funny Face" had its share of hits, including the title song, and "'S Wonderful."
"How Long Has This Been Going On?" is a marvelous tune that actually was dropped from the show in a pre-broadway tryout. Still others that have retained celebrity and effectiveness are "The Babbitt and the Bromide," "High Hat," "The World Is Mine" (another deleted song restored to the show for this production).
The plot is all flappers and silliness, involving a brother-sister story that has him as her guardian and the trials that actuality creates. It is one of the few musicals to glorify the state of New Jersey. In '27 one expected little more than a tuneful frothy romp through ridiculous situations, improbable happenings, risible coincidences. And it proved to be the ideal vehicle for a popular brother-sister dance team of the day, Fred and Adele Astaire.
At Goodspeed, Alfred Uhry is credited with the adaptation of the Fred Thompson and Paul Gerard Smith book to make it a bit less treacly. The production is directed by Will Mac-Kenzie and choreographed by Dan Siretta. The latter never ceases to amaze for his vitality, originality, and style. One can almost see the suavity of Astaire in the dances for Jimmy, and the big production numbers never failed to rouse the somnolent Wednesday matinee crowd.
Were the show merely dancing, all would have been well indeed. And it is probably unfair to point out that casting and direction were not really up to the usual Goodspeed standard and care. Nothing was startlingly wrong, but Mr. MacKenzie seemed unable to mesh the disparte styles of the young cast into a period whole.
James J. Mellon is disarming in his boyish way, but he is not so much the suave '20s carefree youth as he is the '40s wholesome boy-next-door. In the Fred Astaire role of Jimmy, he tripped the light fantastic deftly, though with brow-furled intensity rather than impassive nonchalance. As sister Frankie, the troublesome ward, Karen Jablons sparkled and flapped ebulliently. Marck Frawley and Lora Jeanne Martens filled their roles honorably. Dennis Warning appears to be the ideal clown, and brought many riotous moments to the show.
Most of the chorus girls found the trappings of flapperdom unbecoming (nor were they aided by the unflattering David Toser costumes in the opening scene) looking surprisingly mod '60s.
Some of the Toser costumes were better, but this was not his best effort to date. The Michael J. Hotopp and Paul DePass sets fit the bill, little more. What was Goodspeed resoundingly as usual was the excellent orchestral work from that fine ensemble under the confident, caring, styish direction of indispensible Lynn Crigler.
There have been worse productions at Goodspeed (however few the real duds are), but one hopes that the revival of "Bloomer Girl" will find Goodspeed at the peak of its powers rather than in just an honorable middle ground.