Upper crust and other assorted flakes

The New Yorkers

Music and lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Herbert Fields, adapted by Mel Miller
Director and choreographer Thomas Mills
Musical direction by Barbara Anselmi
Musicals Tonight!
MainStage at the 14th St. YMHA
344 East 14th Street (212/206-1515/www.smarttix.com)
Equity showcase (closes Apr. 20)
Review by David Mackler

Cole Porter's 1930 show The New Yorkers was based on a story by cartoonist Peter Arno, whose drawings graced the covers and pages of, that's right, The New Yorker. His subjects were jazz babies, society dames, gangsters, café habitues, with a specialization in the lusty and lustful. Herb Fields's book (and Mel Miller's adaptation) is full of that kind of sexuality, with a heaping helping of puns and double (and triple) entendres. It is a different kind of entertainment from what is currently produced, but the Musicals Tonight! production, directed by Thomas Mills, was more of a museum piece than live theater. It was dependent, and got by, on the charm of Porter's songs -- and the score has been augmented (as Musicals Tonight! often does) by music from half-a-dozen other Porter shows, most notably Wake Up and Dream.

So there's the merest wisp of a plot about a society girl who has a fiancé as well as the hots for a bootlegger, a lovelorn club hostess, assorted ditzy dames, and 29 songs performed to music director Barbara Anselmi's piano. But the volume of songs didn't work in the show's favor -- there was the very strong sense that most of the songs were cut to one verse and one chorus, and they seemed to end before either the music or the singer had gotten to its destination.

And since there's only so much mileage that can be gotten out of lines like "He said he was going to lay a cornerstone" when a wife unexpectedly sees her husband with his girlfriend, or a remark about a woman who "was a schoolteacher but lost her class," it's a good thing many of the singers knew how to put over a Porter song, no matter how abbreviated. Leading the way were T.J. Mannix, a solid stage presence and very good voice that worked well with "Where Have You Been?" and "You're Too Far Away," and Nanne Puritz, whose mile-wide smile and sweet soprano made for a smashing Act I closure with "Which."

Puritz also had the good fortune to be the only one on stage outfitted in color (mauve for Act I, creamy tan for Act II), while everyone else was in black-and-white (or dark shades of gray anyway) to give a '30s art deco movie feel (costumes were courtesy the tdf Costume Collection). Amy Silverman made her own color as the comic of the piece, and Robert Lydiard made fun out of the script's merest fluff, and sang a joyous "I Happen to Like New York." Cristin Boyle had a good knack with ballads, and her song with Silverman, "They All Fall in Love," was a comic highlight, with its Porter list-lyric.

Not much acting was called for, not with the preponderance of bum jokes, and jokes about bums (the rear-end kind). But even if the proceedings were a little lackluster, it's always good to hear a chorus belt "Take me back to Manhattan, that dear old dirty town!"

Also with Leslie Alexander, David M. Beris, Jennifer Blood, Ethan James Duff, David Macaluso, Diana Preisler, Justin Roller, Courter Simmons, Gabrielle Stravelli, Doug Trapp, and Edward Watts.

Box Score:

Book/adaptation: 1
Lyrics/music: 2
Directing/musical direction: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 David Mackler