BWW Reviews: OH, KAY! is OK with Audiences Now Through Nov 20

Many things in 42nd Street Moon's production of George and Ira Gershwin's "Oh, Kay!" are OK. The singing is OK. The lighting and backdrop are OK. The sets are OK - a good use of small space.

But a few things in this production are amazing. Those few things make it worth going to the production, and they guarantee a fun time that will have audiences saying, as a song from the musical says, "Oh, Kay, you're OK with me!"

First, the fact that a show like this has found a home for a short period of time is a feat in itself — one this reviewer is very happy about. "Oh, Kay" has had a Broadway revival or two, but would have a hard time succeeding on Broadway or winning any Tony awards, today. Modern audiences prefer revolutionary, meaningful musicals or musicals with star power (case in point: "The Addams Family" has done well on Broadway, despite negative reviews and a lack of Tony award nominations). "The Drowsy Chaperone," which spoofed old musicals like "Oh, Kay," was innovative and had the star power of Sutton Foster. "Anything Goes" on Broadway currently enjoys sold out houses, but only because of its leading lady (also Sutton Foster, who was just replaced by Stephanie J. Block) and other famous actors and because of Cole Porter's name to its music. 

"Drowsy Chaperone" and "Anything Goes" have strong stories, too. "Oh, Kay" has a fun, but cheesy story. During prohibition, a group of bootleggers are surprised when they find out that the owner of the home they've been using to store their illegal merchandise has come home. One of them finds herself even more surprised by love. But the man she loves will soon get married, and she has other problems. The law enforcement is onto the bootlegging operation, and Kay doesn't have a passport for being legally in America. Chaos and mistaken identities follow. 

It's the kind of slap-stick, old-fashioned farce that comes with fun, but laughable music. Even with classic songs like "Someone to Watch Over Me," the overall score does not live up to modern standards. But it does deliver for those who enjoy old musicals like "The Desert Song" (also rarely done), especially those who grew up during the era such musicals were written. 

George Gershwin certainly has his own brand of music. You know his music when you hear it, and Gershwin fans won't be disappointed with the fun music of "Oh, Kay," as cheesy as some of it is. 42nd Street Moon has its own brand, too. It specializes in putting on the lesser known classics like "Oh, Kay." And it's an amazing, wonderful thing that the company does, putting on shows rarely done for people like this reviewer who love classics.

Second, the acting in 42nd Street's production exceeds expectations in every way. Some of the musical might be better classified as melodrama, with its exaggerated accents and dialogue. The cast makes this romantic comedy a blast with their laugh-out-loud jokes and facial expressions. Energy abounds. 

Third, Stacy Arriaga's choreography uses the stage well, especially in the jig tap dance number, "Fidgety Feet."

Fourth, the two person orchestra (Brandon Adans on piano and Nick di Scala on reeds) makes audiences easily forget the lack of a full orchestra, as Scala plays the flute, saxophone and clarinet throughout the show. 

Sixth, Brian Yates Sharber has a wonderful, rich singing voice as "Shorty" McGee, one of the bootleggers, who pretends to be the butler in order to keep Jimmy, the homes' owner, out of the basement.

"Amazing vocal talent" cannot describe the rest of the cast, however. Although every singer has a pleasant enough voice and the girl's chorus has pleasing harmonies, for the most part, each feels singer more like an actor trying to sing. What conviction actors have in their acting they lack in their singing. Except for Teressa Byrne, who plays Kay. 

Byrne's bio makes it clear she has operatic experience. Her voice definitely has an operatic feel to it, but her forced, excessive vibrato is one that will please some and greatly annoy others. Her twitter vibrato harkens back to the vibrato that found popularity when the Gershwins wrote "Oh, Kay," but it doesn't fit with the smoother voices of the rest of the cast. Byrne's version of the well-known song "Someone to Watch Over Me" did earn her plenty of applause on opening night, but applause which this reviewer attributes to nostalgia and to an ignorance of strong versus poor singing technique.

Despite its faults, 42nd Street Moon's production of "Oh, Kay" measures up to just above OK. The pros outweigh the cons, and, as with most of the shows the theater company produces, it's refreshing to see such a lost classic done for those of us who absolutely love older shows with fun, endearing music, no matter how cheesy the story.


Oh, Kay!

Music by George Gershwin 

Lyrics by Ira Gershwin

Book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton

Now through November 20, 2011

42nd Moon Street - San Francisco, California

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From This Author Harmony Wheeler

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