BWW Review: Kelli O'Hara, Bill Irwin, Christopher Fitzgerald and Lauren Worsham in MasterVoices' BABES IN TOYLAND
After producer Fred Hamlin christened Columbus Circle's Majestic Theatre with a spectacular musical extravaganza based on L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," he sought to follow up with another memorable production with a family-friendly setting.
With music by Victor Herbert and book and lyrics by Glen MacDonough, BABES IN TOYLAND opened in October of 1903 for what was then considered a healthy five month run. It would return to Broadway in three more engagements before a film version, vastly revised for stars Laurel and Hardy, was released in 1934. Eventually television audiences would enjoy the movie retitled as "March of The Wooden Soldiers."
While many early 20th Century Broadway musicals retained the romantic feel of European operetta, aspects of American vaudeville, and the international influences of New York's immigrant population, were becoming more prominent. As presented in concert form at Carnegie Hall by MasterVoices, BABES IN TOYLAND sure looks at times like an American musical comedy trying to break free of its overseas roots.
The original Broadway production contained a company of over 200, most of them, as the advertisement assured, were pretty girls. About half that many MasterVoices chorus members were joined on stage by the Orchestra of St. Luke's, led by conductor and Broadway historian Ted Sperling for a thrilling evening that presented the lush and lovely score in its original form for the first time in over a hundred years.
Blair Brown supplied narration that tried to make some sense from the story, but, as she explained, musical comedy was in its infancy in 1903 and you don't expect an infant to make much sense.
MacDonough's story involves the evil Barnaby (Jonathan Freeman in a voice and manner that channels Cyril Ritchard) trying to steal the inheritance of his orphaned wards Alan (Christopher Fitzgerald) and Jane (Lauren Worsham) by hiring two henchmen (Jeffrey Schecter and Chris Sullivan) to arrange for them to be lost at sea.