BWW Review: FIORELLO! at 42nd Street Moon: a hero worth uplifting is presented in 1960's Fiorello!
Music by Jerome Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Karen Altree Piemme
Given the current political and social polarization we're experiencing, a revival of the seldom staged 1960 Tony and Pulitzer winner Fiorello!, a rambling, ambitious history of NYC mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, a champion of the underprivileged seems appropriate. In a time when heroes are rare, Fiorello! offers an example in the sparkling performance by Colin Thomson in the title role.
Unfortunately, even the best intentions of Director Karen Altree Piemme, the strong ensemble cast and a solid period piece atmosphere by costume designer Merissa Mann and set designer Brian Watson, 42nd Street Moon can't turn hay into gold with this production. The problem lies in the so-so, unmemorable score, surprising for a winner of the Tony for Best Musical, and the rambling narrative arc that strays from the story's strengths - the fight for the common man.
Piemme's staging is wonderful, with some nice choreography by Jayne Zaban, exhibited in a dance number highlighting Fiorello's courting of both the Italian and Jewish minorities. "Politics and Poker," pokes fun at the backroom dealing of political hacks, and witty "Little Tin Box", sung by Chris Vettel as Ben, the political king-maker, lampoons the art of graft and kickbacks. Each of the three female leads gets a solo turn; Dora (Marissa Cozart), a garment worker who falls for a cop (a diversionary subplot) sings ("I Love a Cop"), Marie (Katrina Lauren McGaw), Fiorello's languishing unrequited love sings of falling for the next man who asks in "The Very Next Man", and Thea (Amanda Johnson), Fiorello's wife remembers when she fell in love in the poignant "When Did I Fall in Love".
The play moves when it concentrates on Fiorello and his congressional election, his WWI heroism and his eventual run for mayor of NYC. It loses steam with its subplots (rival candidate Jimmy Walker's attempt at sabotaging Fiorello's rally) that bloat the run time to over two hours plus.
The ensemble, Amy Pierce Alvino, John Brown, Danielle Cheiken, Elliot Hanson, Cameron LaBrie, Catrina Manahan, Mario Mazzetti, Lee Ann Payne and Matt Skinner work their tails off in multiple roles. The three female leads all shine in their roles, each affected by the charisma of Fiorello. Christopher Nelson has a plum role as the cop and husband of Dora, and Chris Vettel has the right touch of bravado and machoism as the 14th Wards political kingpin.
Sean Fenton and Matt Hammons have plum roles as Fiorello's assistant attorneys- overworked and often exasperated by their boss. Colin Thomson holds the show together with his integrity, honesty and genuine empathy for the common man. As a role model, we couldn't ask for a better representative and that the appeal of 42nd Street Moons offering.
Fiorello! continues at the Gateway Theater, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco, through March 17th. For tickets call (415) 255-8207 or www.42ndstmoon.org.
Photos by Ben Krantz.