Review Roundup: Encores! HIGH BUTTON SHOES
This week, New York City Center presents the final Encores! production of the City Center 75th Anniversary Season, High Button Shoes. The production features Aidan Alberto (Stevie), Jennifer Allen (Shirley Simpkins), Kevin Chamberlin (Mr. Pontdue), Carla Duren (Fran), Chester Gregory (Papa Longstreet), Mylinda Hull (Nancy), Marc Koeck (Oggle), Matt Loehr (Uncle Willy), Wayne Pretlow (Elmer Simpkins), Michael Urie (Harrison Floy), and Betsy Wolfe (Sara Longstreet).
A springtime romp, High Button Shoes follows the misadventures of two charismatic conmen (Michael Urie and Kevin Chamberlin) as they proceed to bamboozle Sara Longstreet (Betsy Wolfe) and her family-inciting a chase from New Brunswick, down the Jersey Shore, to Atlantic City. The first Broadway collaboration from Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, the production features hits like "Papa, Won't You Dance with Me" and "On a Sunday by the Sea." Jerome Robbins won his first Tony Award for Best Choreography with the show and two numbers-the dazzling comedic 10-minute ensemble piece, "Bathing Beauty Ballet," and "I Still Get Jealous"-will use his original choreography staged by Sarah O'Gleby.
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Ben Brantley, New York Times: Were you left feeling chafed by those harsh, hot winds sweeping through this season's revisionist, Tony-nominated production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!"? Are you longing for a revival that lets a cheerful old American musical remain its cheerful old self, with any inner darkness undisclosed? Theatergoers of this mind may well find solace in the twinkly "High Button Shoes," a nearly forgotten frolic from the late-1940s that is occupying New York City Center this weekend, with a cast led by the indefatigable Michael Urie. The last of this season's Encores! musicals in concert has the approximate fizz and flavor of a vanilla egg cream.
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: So Encores! star Michael Urie takes on the formidable task of playing a comedy role a great Broadway comic wrote for himself, tailored to his own style. Urie is indeed a charismatic performer and proved with his Off-Broadway starring performance in Red Bull's THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR that he's quite adept at old-school physical comedy, but director John Rando has him mimicking Silvers - the brash Brooklyn moxie, the mock-honied voice that can suddenly explode into a bellow and the trademark glasses - and, at least on opening night, it didn't seem a comfortable fit. Part of the problem is that Silvers didn't necessarily say funny things. He said things funny. So the script isn't exactly loaded with wit.
Thom Geier, The Wrap: The indefatigable Michael Urie stars as a charming con artist named Harrison Floy who, along with his loyal sidekick (played to hangdog perfection by Kevin Chamberlin), returns to his New Brunswick, New Jersey, hometown to carry off a grand swindle. But the thin plot is supplemented by vaudeville-ish side bits involving everything from Texas cowboys to suburban bird-watchers to the Rutgers football team to all those cops chasing baddish guys amid seaside beachgoers. And Stephen Longstreet's book, which packs in dated punchlines that seem to carry their own rimshots, probably seemed dated even in its day.
Matt Windman, amNY: Urie (a terrific comic actor in his own right, as recently seen in "Torch Song") appears to be impersonating Silvers' antic disposition the entire time; he even wears the same kind of black, horned-rimmed glasses associated with Silvers. The actors playing the local community's straight-laced characters (including Betsy Wolfe and Chester Gregory) seem ill at ease and unsure whether to approach the material from a standpoint of sincerity or satire. In a broader context, this has not been the strongest season in the 26-year history of the reputable, beloved and generally excellent Encores! series. "High Button Shoes," which marks the finale of this year's series, was preceded by underwhelming productions of Irving Berlin's "Call Me Madam" and Rodgers & Hart's "I Married An Angel." Here's hoping for better luck in 2020.
Steven Suskin, New York Stage Review: The flim-flam man Floy is chockful of Silvers' ad libs, which one can well imagine were uproarious coming from the man. Do High Button Shoes without a clown who can land the jokes, though, and the entire thing deflates-even if you outfit your star in Phil's trademarked wide-pane glasses. Michael Urie (Buyer & Cellar, Torch Song) is an impressive comic actor, and does adequately in the role; but he is not a low-comedy clown, and the Silvers gibes-which someone like Nathan Lane or Michael McGrath could pull off-don't land. Without a strong star performance, all that's left in this High Button Shoes is the "Bathing Beauty Ballet." And that's not enough to support the evening.
Joe Dziemianowicz, Theatre News Online: Amid creaks, the showtunes "Papa, Won't You Dance With Me?," "I Still Get Jealous" and "Can't You Just See Yourself in Love with Me?" offer ear candy. Jerome Robbins' antic, Keystone Kops-flavored choreography, staged by Sarah O'Gleby, for "Bathing Beauty Ballet" is still good fun. And sublimely blended choral voices and the Encores! orchestra push their own joy buttons.