Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Babes in Arms : 42nd Street Moon : Another Winner!

The Great Depression of the '30s was not just an economic phenomenon. To avert a descent into an emotional abyss as well, the nation almost universally embraced the ebullience and optimism provided by the American musical. The gifted songwriting team of Rodgers and Hart were without peer in their uncanny ability to mitigate the despair with memorable melodies and clever lyrics destined to become popular classics.

To capture the prevalent spirit of an ostensibly simpler time in a manner that rings true during an era where irony has supplanted sentiment would appear to be a tall order. As current events have revealed, however, history has a bad habit of repeating itself. And despite the veneer of 21st century cool, deep down people will always remain visceral creatures. The powers that be at 42nd Street Moon have never lost sight of this basic truth.

That is why virtually all facets of this wonderful production succeed brilliantly. The cast is uniformly fine, with precise comic timing, superb vocal proficiency and inspired acting performances offered throughout. Most notable are Tyner Rushing (Delores), Sophia Rose Morris (Baby Rose) and Joshua James (Marshall), who inhabit their characters with such utter abandon that they’re a sheer joy to behold. And the balletic moves of young Isaiah Boyd would do Ballanchine (the original choreographer) proud.

Direction, both acting and musical, is executed with a refreshing creative acuity. Staging and choreography for the relatively large ensemble are, in a word, outstanding. The intricate and delightful choreography composed for the two “Gus (Danny Gozart) and Delores (Rushing)” duets are just a sample of the many highlights. And the several choral numbers are delivered with enough exuberance to elicit goose bumps!

Notwithstanding the consummate skill on display, the musical is not without its shortcomings. Most unexpectedly, despite featuring tunes that have become sentimental standards, the strong political themes of the story almost eclipse, albeit entertainingly, the essential romanticism. This is due, in part, to the lack of any perceptible chemistry between the two leads, Michael Scott Wells (Val) and Alexandra Kaprielian (Billie).

Moreover, Ms. Kaprielian’s performance, including her competent renditions of perennial favorites “My Funny Valentine” and “The Lady is a Tramp”, tended to emphasize the artifice of her meticulous technique over heartfelt emotion. She’s undoubtedly quite talented, but arguably miscast here. And one has reason to suspect that she was understandably intimidated by the generations of legendary singers who have covered the songs before her. That's a tough legacy to follow for anyone!

Nitpicking aside, this is without a doubt one of the best revivals I’ve had the good fortune to witness in a long time. I recommend, without reservation, that everyone march their way down forthwith to the Eureka Theatre and experience this little gem of family-friendly merriment before it becomes history once again!

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