BWW Reviews: 'Accentuate the Positive!' THE ANDREWS BROTHERS Is 'Positively' Smashing at the Annenberg Theatre
I'm almost certain I've said this before about a Coyote Stageworks production - but it bears repeating! "Run, don't walk" to the box office to see this highly polished, highly entertaining and anything but "high brow" musical comedy before it's too late. I offer a few critical thoughts below, in addition to heaps of praise -- but nothing to impede you from running out and spending a thoroughly enjoyable evening in the theatre with an absolutely irresistible quartet of actors. Founder and Artistic Director, Chuck Yates, has once again assembled a "dream team" of actors, directors and designers who deliver at every turn. The Andrews Brothers is all fluff, to be sure, but it is presented with such panache, polish and style that the diversion from anything with more depth is just what the doctor ordered. I can't think of a better description than a very old-fashioned word - "delightful"! It was absolutely delightful. I LOVED THIS SHOW and you will too.
Let's start with the actors - each and every one masterful and quite magic! If you looked in the Broadway dictionary under "triple threat" you would, undoubtedly, find their headshots and resumes. There was so much craft and skill going on on that stage that it was truly an embarrassment of riches, Michael Paternostro (Lawrence) is pure charm and charisma from word go, backed up by a song and dance style and finesse that begs the question - "what if Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire had a baby?" Jamie Torcellini (Max) has a wonderfully commanding presence and is the perfect "anchor" to the quartet. Bets Malone, no surprise, is absolutely wonderful and engaging as the pin-up Peggy. Larry Raben (Patrick) is nothing short of magic! It is difficult to take your eyes off of every subtle nuance he brings to his character, even when he is not intended to be the center of attention. The show requires a lot of slap-stick, "Three Stooges-esque" staging that can come off as awkward and embarrassing in the wrong hands - but not this quartet. They handle the broadest "over the top" moments with great aplomb and sing the pants off of the lush vocal harmonies. These four actors, alone, are the reason to see this show.
Nick DeGruccio's direction is deft and deliberate and reminiscent of an old movie musical. A really good one. Roger Castellano's choreography is bright and buoyant and clever and fits the characters and the story like a glove. The show is slick and polished and yet feels fresh and free-wheeling and "un-practiced" (in a good way) at the same time.
The only real criticism I offer is of the show, itself. A "jukebox" musical is only as strong as it's book and the element of "surprise" in it's premise - if the premise never moves beyond the "elevator pitch" it can make for a very long evening, even in the most capable hands. The book is weak - it is a musical "comedy" and none of the lines are very funny, The bits wear thin and are all too predictable. Creator Roger Bean leans far too much on repetitive sight gags -- Max's clumsiness, Patrick's stutter and asthma and Lawrence's near-sightedness and reliance on note-cards to remember his lyrics --- and after repeating the same joke over and over it becomes yawn-provoking rather than laugh-provoking. It appears the Bean borrows a lot from the "Forever Plaid" playbook, but what works effectively for "Plaid" somehow gets lost in the translation.
The second act is the "punch-line" to the premise set-up in Act One and it is far too long-winded for it's own good. Bean tries situation after situation - as if trying to roll every "I Love Lucy" episode into one evening in the theatre - but there are no surprises. Nothing new, nothing we haven't seen before in some other iteration. There isn't a single line that, on it's own - without the expert delivery of a brilliant actor - makes you laugh out loud. And that's a problem. (In the expert hands of Raben, Malone, Paternostro and Torcellini I did laugh out loud on numerous occasions, but none of it to the credit of the book). In this writer's humble opinion - the show would be better served as a one act musical where the "punchline" (the boys in drag as The Andrews Sisters) becomes the hilarious "icing on the cake" to a wonderful, brief romp in the theatre instead of a labored and long-winded attempt at keeping the audience laughing for forty minutes at the same joke. It doesn't hold. The punchline (and the repetitive gags) doesn't sustain. Even with BRILLIANT ACTORS, which Coyote Stageworks was afforded in droves!
NONE OF MY CRITICISM OF THE SHOW TAKES AWAY THE FACT THAT THIS IS A HELLUVA GREAT PRODUCTION AND WORTHY OF BOTH YOUR TIME AND THE PRICE OF ADMISSION. Every aspect of Coyote's "Andrews Brothers" is top-notch and entertaining beyond words, in spite of my feelings about the book.
Michael Borth's vocal and band arrangements are outstanding and Colin Freeman did them more than justice. The vocals and musicians were stellar and the harmonies tight and really terrific. Phil Murphy's lighting and Josh Clabaugh's scenic design are noteworthy, effective and add tremendous support to the overall production.
Coyote Stageworks presents THE ANDREWS BROTHERS at The Annenberg Theatre for two more weeks. Drive in from LA. Drive in from San Diego. If you're in Palm Springs, get off the couch and go to the theatre. For tickets call the box office at (760) 325-4490 or visit www.annenbergtheater.org.