MY ONE AND ONLY is s'wonderful at Goodspeed Musicals through June 25

MY-ONE-AND-ONLY-is-swonderful-at-Goodspeed-Musicals-through-June-25-20010101

My One and Only
Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Book by Peter Stone and Timothy S. Mayer
Directed by Ray Roderick
at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, CT through June 25
www.goodspeed.org

With its cadre of fleet-footed flappers and fast-tapping flyboys, Goodspeed Musicals' current revival of My One and Only delights with old-fashioned flair.   At the center of this production is a star-making performance by Tony Yazbeck, singing and dancing his way from New York to Morocco, in the role created by Tommy Tune.  Surrounded by a game troupe and a delicious Gershwin score lifted primarily from the 1927 Fred and Adele Astaire musical Funny Face, My One and Only (running now through June 25) is a frothy, bubbly confection that transports its audience back to the 1920s.

As with many musicals that offer up the songbook of Musical Theatre's golden age, the plot is mainly negligible.  Billy, an earnest American pilot, dreams of being the first aviator to make a transatlantic flight.  Edythe Herbert,  the famous English Channel swimmer, arrives in the U.S. with an aquacade.  Can a man with his head in the clouds achieve romantic lift-off with a woman who is being kept underwater by a nefarious manager?  As soon as you sit down, you know the outcome and you don't much mind.  The joys of My One and Only lie in the laughs, the dancing and, of course, the songs.

With a score that includes such Gershwin classics as "Nice Work If You Can Get It," " He Loves & She Loves" and "S'Wonderful," director Ray Roderick has a candy box of sweet tunes at his disposal.   One of the other treats in Roderick's production is the clever use of projections.  Theatre used to be a refuge from the non-stop assault of video screens that we face as a society.  More and more, we are finding video projections utilized in theatre alongside the traditional elements of light, sound, set and costume.  Sometimes video threatens to upstage the flesh-and-blood action, but in the case of My One and Only, Michael Clark's projection design only adds to the magic.  We first see Tony Yazbeck flying high atop his plane, a trick projected onto the umbrellas of the chorus.  A visit to the movies finds the young would-be lovers interrupting other moviegoers who are actually watching Rudolph Valentino's 1926 silent Son of the Sheik.  The Act 2 opener, "In the Swim," finds us in a bubble-filled underwater wonderland.

The Goodspeed production is being touted as a "tap dance spectacular," a promise on which it delivers.  The Act 1 number "High Hat" threatens to bring the house down with a white-tie-and-tails ensemble hoofing their way up and down the small staircase that dominates the Art Deco set by James Youmans.  The Act 2 penultimate number "Kickin' the Clouds Away," finds the stage an uproarious collision of taps, sequins and choir robes.  The choreography by Kelli Barclay mines the classic tropes of tap and ballroom dance perfectly.

My One and Only rises, and only occasionally stumbles, on the strength of its performances.  The romantic leads show how a lightweight soufflé like this musical requires charm to keep it aloft.  And charm is what Tony Yazbeck has in spades.  A barnstormer from America's heartland, the character of Billy requires a gee-shucks, wide-eyed innocence that has all but disappeared from musicals.  Yazbeck's endearing Billy wins the audience instantaneously.  His athletic dancing, strong vocals and matinee-idol looks add up to the ideal male lead for My One and Only.  His "Strike Up the Band" powerfully closes Act 1 and threatens to blow the back off the theatre.  Yazbeck started the Connecticut theatre season underutilized in Hartford Stage's leaden Antony and Cleopatra and it is a delight to see his talents showcased in such a buoyant vehicle.

Partnered with the dynamic Yazbeck is Gabrielle Ruiz as Edythe Herbert, the star of a traveling aquacade.  While blessed with a crystalline singing voice and dancing abilities that allow her to keep up with her indefatigable co-star, Ruiz only occasionally manages to summon the charm that her part requires.  In a role created by Twiggy and outfitted in a Louise Brooks bob, Ruiz does not coax the audience into falling in love with her.  As such, it becomes hard to see why a catch like Billy would toss aside his dreams to pursue her.   Her interpretations of "S'Wonderful" and "Nice Work If You Can Get It" are technically proficient, but lack the romantic heart that should be right at the surface.

Similarly, among the secondary leads, there are ups and downs.  Kristen Wyatt's airplane mechanic is a wise-cracking tough cookie with a Megan Mullally voice.  Her comic timing and slight potty-mouth add to moments generally given over to plot exposition.  Trent Armand Kendall hams it up mightily as a gospel-tinged sinner who ministers "to distressed spirits by day, distilled spirits by night" in his speakeasy.   Shadowed by The New Rhythms, a trio of singing and tapping sidekicks, Kendall is an audience favorite.  Khris Lewin works hard to mine comedy from his Boris-and-Natasha-style villain Prince Nicolai Erraclyovitch Tchatchavadze (Prince Nikki, for short), but only delivers laughs in fits and starts.  Once the caricatured Russian accent has exhausted itself (by the 34th time he has referred to his aquacade stars as "my leetle feeshes," you are hoping one of the women will throw him in the drink), Lewin does not seem to know where to go with his part.  He later reappears as another stereotyped and sporadically-amusing international, Achmed the Moroccan nightclub owner. 

With only about fifteen minutes of stage time, Alde Lewis, Jr. manages to almost steal the show right out from under Yazbeck.  In the role of Mr. Magix, the suave owner of Mr. Magix's Tonsorial and Sartorial Emporial, Lewis oversees Billy's transformation from hayseed hick to a debonair lady's man.  With a droll delivery and an arched eyebrow, Lewis flattens the audience with his dry remarks.  When forced out of his barber chair to show Billy how to win Edythe with deft footwork, the ensuing tap duet between Lewis (who is a protégé of Charles "Honi" Coles who originated the role of Mr. Magix) and Yazbeck literally stops the show cold.

The engaging ensemble of chorus boys and chorines ably capture that 1920s aesthetic of sweet and tart, all swathed in Robin L. McGee's fabulous Jazz Age fashions.  Eye and ear candy abounds in this smart revival of My One and Only.  Of course, a visit to the Goodspeed Opera House's historic theatre is a treat in and of itself.  Audiences are encouraged to visit this jewel on the Connecticut River for a fizzy, fun evening of light-hearted entertainment.

Photo by Diane Sobolewski.


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