By Jerome Weidman and George Abbott
Music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed and choreographed by Kathy Conry
Musical Director Scott Ethier
St. Bart’s Players
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Elias Stimac
In this election year, it was only fitting that art once again imitate life. St. Bart’s Players chose to revive Fiorello!, and the timing couldn’t be better. The fact that the title role is that of a goodhearted Republican reminds us all that not everyone in politics is crooked.
Focusing on former NYC Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia – yes, he is the same one that has airports and buildings named after him -- the musical follows the lead character throughout his career. According to the press release, the plot takes viewers "from his obscure beginnings as an underdog Republican candidate in an overwhelmingly Democratic district to his triumphant victory over James ‘Jimmy’ Walker for Mayor." It also fills audiences in on his tours of duty as a soldier, a lawyer, and a Congressman. While it isn’t the most exciting period musical, it did appear to be a worthwhile classic that should be revived more often.
The show did very well in its initial run, winning both the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize in 1959. The recent production by St. Bart’s played up the show’s strengths and evoked a nostalgic longing for simpler times. Not that running for political office is ever easy -- but honest Fiorello (Jim Mullins) spends more time actually listening to the public he wants to serve than to his advisors, and the attentive, authentic concern pays off. He ends up being mayor of New York from 1934-45, keeping his dignity and honesty intact.
While the musical chronicles LaGuardia’s climb into office, it also shines a spotlight on his private life, which was just as complicated. Just when you think Fiorello is going to settle down with office secretary Marie (Barbara Zaid), a lithe Italian protester named Thea (Kirsten Kane) enters his life and steals his heart. He ends up marrying one and then realizing he had feelings for the other all the time.
Director Kathleen Conry took the Jerome Weidman/George Abbott story and made it meaningful in today’s turbulent times. Her staging and choreography were visually arresting as well.
The Bock/Harnick score boasts some memorable songs, most notably "Little Tin Box," sung by a dour bunch of Republicans. Musical director Scott Ethier kept the melodies bright and lively.
In a show populated with male political figures, it was the women who really stole the show. Zaid and Kane offered some lovely ballads, and Hope Landry captured the comedy crown with her rendition of "I Love a Cop." Mullins scored with his acting ability, able to make the man he portrayed both tough and tender. The ensemble all displayed singing and acting talents that combined to make the show a true group effort, including Peter Adamson, Ian Agard, Marilyn Bettinger, Peter Bologna, Michael Blake, Bruce Eaken, Rich Fisher, Jon Frederick, Allison Godbout, Elizabeth Gravitt, Ildi Kiss, Lana Krasnyasky, Robyn Macey, Bill McEnaney, Sam Militello, Jack Molyneaux, Gretchen Mundinger, Susan Neuffer, Peter Neuman, Richard Spector, and Jessica Verdi.
The technical team helped evoke the era, from Joseph J. Egan’s set and Heather Brower’s lighting to Kimberly Glennon’s costumes.
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