Musicals Tonight! presents Oh Lady! Lady!!: Lady be Good!

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1918… a time when Ziegfeld ruled the Great White Way, when Mary Pickford was America's Sweetheart, and Oh, Lady! Lady!! was a roaring hit at the Princess Theatre. Musicals Tonight! took us to this glorious past in style with their recent run of Oh, Lady! Lady!!.

 

Musicals Tonight! is a non-profit group who brings "neglected" musicals back to the New York stage in fully choreographed staged readings with bare bones production values and top notch performers at startlingly reasonable prices. In their seven year history, the group has garnered much praise, including a recent OBIE award. They have produced numerous lost gems by the likes of Rodgers and Hart, the Gershwins, and Victor Herbert, all under the leadership of enthusiastic founder and producer Mel Miller. Unlike another respected staged reading institution across the avenue, they have ardently stuck to obscure titles. I Married an Angel, Let It Ride!, So Long 174th Street!, Stop! Look Listen!, and That's The Ticket!, to name a few (the company seems to have an affection for exclamatory titles). They also have a successful concert series called At This Performance!, which features Broadway understudies.

 

I generally frown upon pre-show curtain speeches, as they are usually an excuse for the director or producer to pat themselves on the back, beg for funding, and tell a few wan jokes. Mr. Millers' charming speech, however, was far from the normal fare, delivering the sort of delicious trivia that delighted the theatre devotees in the audience. Oh, Lady! Lady!! featured songs by the incomparable Jerome Kern, and a book by Brit wit P.G. Wodehouse. It starred future Lorenz Hart muse Vivenne Segal, and ran for a then-astonishing 219 performances. Perhaps the most amusing historical note was about a song cut from the show, a little ditty about the heroines' love for an ordinary guy. The song went into the trunk, but was brought back for a later Kern show called Showboat… Yes, it's just our "Bill".

 

The plot of Oh, Lady! Lady!!, like most musical plots of the period, is merely a loose framework for showcasing pretty girls, snappy gags, and wonderful songs. Well-bred Molly Farringdon (Amy Bils) is getting married to the dashing but penniless Willoughby Finch (Maxime Alvarez deToledo, whose ponderous height matches his elongated moniker), under the disapproving eye of her formidable mother (Katherine Harber). Willoghby is aided by his affable chum Hale Underwood (Christopher Corts), who in turn has his eye on Willoughby's former fiancée May (Robyn Parrish). Throw in an ex-con valet Spike (Roger Rifkin) and his sticky fingered sweetheart Fanny (Jennifer Winegardener), an oblivious British detective (John O'Creagh), and stir at a scandalous Greenwich Village artists party. With mistaken identity, theft, and suspicion in the air, will all these crazy kids end up together?

 

I am thrilled to say that I have rarely heard such uniformly superb singing on a stage. Musical Director and Vocal Arranger Richard Hip-Flores deserves a multitude of kudos for his leadership of the pitch-and-period perfect voices. Although some of the choreography was a bit repetitive, Director-choreographer Thomas Mills doesn't let the fluffy plot become too wacky or too melodramatic, and shows his knowledge of and affection for the era.

 

The cast is rife with great performances; nearly every one is worth comment. Mr. deToledo brought back the debonair leading man of yore, handsome and full voiced. Robyne Parrish was beautiful and sassy as May, and shared a very funny duet called "Wheatless Days" with Mr. Corts. There are brilliant comedic turns aplenty in the show. Mr. Rifkin as Spike and Ms. Winegardener as Fanny brought the perfect touch to their roles as lovable, Runyon-esque criminals who long to put their "Dear Old Prison Days" behind them. Katherine Harber gleefully relished her every snarky punch-line, and Mr. O'Creagh was delightful as the clueless sleuth Twombly, making the trio "It's a Hard Hard World for a Man" memorable. As sad-sack building superintendent Watty, Trip Plymale gamely earned belly laughs with admittedly dated one-liners about the woes of matrimony. As Molly, Amy Bils is radiant. Her voice and manner reminded me of opera star and show-tune recording artist Dawn Upshaw (and those who know me know I can bestow no higher compliment to a singer). Singing "Bill", especially in this unfamiliar context, is not and enviable task, but Ms. Bils made it a new thing. Her performance in what could have been a forgettable ingénue role made her a name I'll be watching out for in the future.

 

The next project for Musicals Tonight! is the 1941 Porter/Fields military musical farce Lets Face It! (which, oddly enough, had a cut song called "You Can't Beat My Bill").You're sure to find me in the audience, and if you're smart, you'll be there too.

 

 

 

 

 




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From This Author Margaret Cross

MARGARET CROSS was born in Ohio, raised in Florida, and currently resides in New York City, where she is a singer and actress. She is (read more...)