Once again, Musicals Tonight! has put together a solid concert version of a show from the archives of musical theatre. The current offering is a recent example of Broadway's penchant for transforming popular feature films into song-and-dance stage shows. And while the theatrical version won't replace the magic of the movie starring Peter O'Toole, this production did feature a star who without a doubt captured the matinee-idol bravado and charm required of the colorful character O'Toole created. But more about him later.
The King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade is a fictitious 1954 live television show based on a groundbreaking TV program starring Sid Caesar that boasted a writing team including young Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, and Larry Gelbart. It is the place where fresh new comedy scribe Benjy Stone learns about life, love, and show business. It is also where he finds a mentor and a friend in movie star Alan Swann, who is a guest on the show.
The stage show is entertaining, but lacks the invigorating appeal of the big-screen version, scripted by Dennis Palumbo, upon whose story and screenplay the musical is based. Director and choreographer Thomas Mills did a commendable job of balancing sensitive moments with comic commotion, and threw in plenty of physical comedy in an effort to create excitement, but the action never gained momentum or built to a rousing conclusion.
Despite this drawback, the cast members each made an indelible impression. David Ranson was eager and enthusiastic as Benjy, and Carey Anderson was winsome and winning as the girl of his affections. Philip Hoffman made an amusing King Kaiser, while Sy Routman and Sam Sagenkahn were fine as two bickering writers (even though one never spoke). Donna Coney Island displayed a dry wit and a knack for shtick as fellow writer Alice Miller.
Mary Ellen Ashley was hysterical as Benjy's stereotypical starstruck mother, Wayne Pretlow had some very funny moments as her new husband Rookie Carroca, and Steve Liebman was comically effective in dual roles as Leo Silver and Uncle Morty. Emily Walton had several touching scenes as Alan's daughter Tess. The versatile ensemble also included Rose Bae, Jared Gertner, Sarah Johnson, L.J. Mitchell, Cathy Newman, Courter Simmons, Billy Taylor, and Emily Whyte (who bravely got a pie in the face in the classic comic tradition).
Which brings us to Alan Swann himself. David Staller shone with star quality as the larger-than-life actor who battles swordsmen onscreen and the bottle offscreen. The actor also effortlessly captured the look and style of the bygone era in which the show is set. Casting directors looking for a dashing leading man may want to include Staller on their lists of "My Favorite Actor."
The uncredited set pieces and costumes helped take audiences back to the days of yesteryear, while lighting designer Shih-hui Wu gave everything a nostalgic glow. Music director Barbara Anselmi kept the singers on their toes and the accompaniment lively. Credit should also be given to casting director Stephen deAngelis, who expertly matched Staller and company to their respective roles.
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Copyright 2003 Elias Stimac