By Harry Forbes
Like many today, I know this musical adaptation of Jerome Weidman’s 1937 novel primarily from the 1962 cast album which features Barbra Streisand’s breakout role as harried secretary Miss Marmelstein.
I did see a 1991 revival at the American Jewish Theatre, a production rather strangely ignored in CSC’s otherwise comprehensive timeline of the property from novel onwards, including a 1951 film with Susan Hayward, in a bit of gender swapping, as the protagonist. The Off-Broadway revival was good, as I recall, but I can’t say I remember much about it. And, in any case, the current mounting -- adapted by the playwright’s son, John Weidman, and cannily directed by Trip Cullman -- bears all the classy hallmarks of a major revival, one that I believe is every bit as worthy of a Broadway transfer as such recent shows as, say, “Harmony” and “Kimberly Akimbo.”
Harold Rome’s score -- which always struck me as nothing special on the album -- comes through much more definitively here. Numbers that register as merely serviceable on the cast album come to vibrant life.
Against the backdrop of the Jewish milieu of the 1930s garment district, the story charts the ruthless rise of shipping clerk Harry Bogen (spectacularly embodied by Santino Fontana) who connives his way to dubious success, first by, as a strikebreaker, creating a delivery company during a major work stoppage, to creating his own dress company, Apex Modes, Inc., with the help of gullible partners, dress designer Meyer Bushkin (Adam Chanler-Berat) and seasoned salesman Teddy Asch (Greg Hildreth), all the while supported by his loving mother (Judy Kuhn) and selfless girlfriend (Rebecca Naomi Jones).
The role of Harry, originated by Elliot Gould, plays to all of Fontana’s strengths as both solid dramatic actor and one of our top musical theater performers. His vocals are powerful, and he plays Harry’s ruthless charm to the hilt. He never sidesteps the reprehensible aspects of the character, a real bastard who makes other Broadway antiheroes like “Pal Joey” look like saints by comparison. The others are uniformly superb, including the great Kuhn in Lillian Roth’s original role. She’s the very picture of motherly devotion, and her voice is as lustrous as ever.
Jones is lovely and believable as the devoted Ruthie, and all her numbers are standouts including her angry delivery of “On My Way to Love” with Fontana. Joy Woods plays Harry’s sultry showgirl mistress with requisite glamor and sex appeal.
Julia Lester -- so memorable as Little Red Ridinghood in last season’s “Into the Woods” revival -- socks over her “Miss Marmelstein” number with showstopping charisma and avoids all the familiar Streisand inflections of the song to make it her very own.
As Harry’s duped partners, Hildreth and Chanler-Berat are outstanding, and beyond the more serious aspects of their roles, each have some delightfully light musical moments: Hildreth, in duet with Woods, on “What’s In It For Me?” and Chanler-Berat on “Have I Told You Lately?” with the marvelously empathetic Sarah Steele as Meyer’s supportive wife. Also outstanding are Adam Grupper as factory manager Pulvermacher and Eddie Cooper as Harry’s original business partner Tootsie.
Cullman uses the CSC space with great dexterity and his staging has real dramatic momentum, seamlessly integrated with Ellenore Scott’s balletic choreography featuring some hora-inspired moves to match Rome’s Jewish inflected score, weaving among the versatile table motif of Mark Wendland’s scenic design. Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes are period perfect.
Music Director Jacinth Greywoode’s chamber orchestrations and David Chase’s arrangements of the score are highly satisfying, and I didn’t miss the lusher Broadway charts one bit.
(CSC, 136 East 13 Street; 212-677-4210 or classicstage.org; through December 17)
Photos by Julieta Cervantes:
Top: (l.-r.) Rebecca Naomi Jones and Santino Fontana
Below: Julia LesterPrint this post