REVIEWS: Lady, Be Good!

Lady, Be Good Review May 16, 2003
Reviewed by Seth Bisen-Hersh

Lady, Be Good opened originally in 1924. With a score by the Gershwin brothers and starring Fred & Adele Astaire, it ran almost a year, which in those days was a long time. Musicals Tonight has staged an energetic, toe-tapping revival

The plot for Lady, Be Good is very old fashioned, yet loveable in its simplicity. It’s about three sets of lovers who take two acts to sort themselves out. As the play opens, siblings Dick and Susie Trevor (originally played by the Astaires) have just been evicted. They have no money and are forced to live on the street. It turns out that Josephine Vanderwater is the cause for the eviction. She loves Dick, but he refuses to acquiesce to her whims because he is in love with Shirley Vernon. Unfortunately, Shirley is also poor, so Dick is forced to take Josephine up on her offer of marriage.

However, bring in the hilarious lawyer, Watty Watkins, to spice things up. He has been forced by a Mexican gangster to retrieve the late Jack Robinson’s fortune, and will be paid $100,000 for his troubles. The trouble is that he needs a girl to help him. Susie agrees to help him in exchange for half of Watty’s cash, which will save Dick from his dire fate with Josephine. A mysterious hobo meets Susie in the first scene, and they fall in love. He turns out to be Jack Robinson, the rich heir to a fortune - coincidentally the very fortune that Watty and Susie are trying to secure for the Mexican gangster. Add the fourth couple of Bertie and Daisy for comic relief, and at the end there is, not surprisingly, a quadruple wedding: Dick and Shirley, Jack and Susie, Bertie and Daisy, and, Finally, Watty and Josephine.

The songs are Gershwin gems. The most famous song is "Fascinating Rhythm," but all of the numbers have the Gershwin wit and charm. The score is extremely catchy. How can one not end up humming a Gershwin tune on the way out?

The cast is fabulous. Just fabulous. Jeffry Denman and Nancy Lemenager, not only sing, act, and dance the Astaire roles, but they even choreographed all their dancing, as well! They are just wonderful to watch. Their dances are extraordinary, from the tapping to the Charleston to the dancing on the couch. [Editor’s Note: Lemenager is going to star in her own brand new musical on Broadway this fall, Never Gonna Dance.]The other standout performer is Doug Shapiro as Watty Watkins, who does an amazing job providing comic relief as the meddling lawyer.

As always with Musicals Tonight, the talent involved is tremendous. Although the show is dated and very predictable and I loathe happy endings, it is affectionately charming. The musical numbers really are superb and are the best reasons to see the show. Did I mention the stars choreographed their own dances? Wow. I just have to say wow. I look forward to Musicals Tonight’s next season with fond memories of this one.

Better and Better Lady, Be Good
Off-Off Broadway June 1, 2003
Reviewed by Jade Esteban Estrada

George and Ira Gershwin wrote some of the most memorable music in musical theatre history. Proof of their longevity was displayed at the MainStage at the 14th Street YMHA in the Musicals Tonight production of Lady, Be Good. This musical was jam-packed with show-stopping dance numbers and the kind of music you can’t help but hum all the way back to the train station. You’ll probably be tapping as well. You’ve been warned.

The production first opened at the Liberty Theatre on Broadway in December 1924 (yes, 1924). It revolves around an out-of-work sister/brother dance team who finds both money and romance while entertaining in the homes of the very wealthy. Set in New England in "high society," the story is full of fun Three’s Company-esque situations that seemed to keep the audience engaged.

The shock at the sight of held scripts at the top of the show was quickly alleviated by the bringing on of the first song-and-dance number, "Hang on to Me," between Dick (Jeffry Denman) and Susie (Nancy Lemenager). Using the scripts within the choreography was cleaver and a bit of a relief.

Ridiculously talented Doug Shapiro played the meddling Watty Watkins, whose self-serving manner gets everyone in trouble at one time or another during the course of the show. The comic actor’s timing was consistently clean lively.

Denman (who is responsible for the choreography in Naked Boys Singing! off-Broadway) charmed the audience with his innocent demeanor and lithe movement, which seemed to include the option to fly if the need ever arose. His dancing was pure magic, and his singing voice was like velvet - and yet potent in its effectiveness.

Although the song "Fascinating Rhythm" is the most recognizable song in the show, the choreography seemed tame. But director Thomas Mills made up for that in most of the other numbers, which were dazzling and sophisticated. "Little Jazz Bird" was the sexiest number in the show, thanks to a stunning female ensemble and the show’s powerhouse leading man. These girls had great extension!

With such a huge cast it seemed impressive that such performers could manage to leave their marks in such defining ways. Andrew Rasmussen’s tapping in the first act was delightful, and Malina Linkas (who played Denman’s love interest, Shirley) brought a contemporary sound to the score that was refreshing. Doug Wynn’s portrayal of Jack Robinson was enduring, and his vocals were sung beautifully.

The set of the production was very basic but successful visually. You do need that couch to dance on top of in a show like this after all.

Costumes were simple but also effective. Lemenager’s Mexican costume was colorful and festive, as was Todd Buonopane’s Mexican hat and gun as the comical Manuel Estrada (not to mention that his portrayal of Rufus Parke was really funny). No matter what they brought in for props, though, the actors seemed to need three hands to deal with the scripts.

Jim Stenborg’s interaction between his piano-playing with the cast was hilarious, while Shih-hui Wu’s lighting design was a tad uninspired, although the cast did need bright lighting to read!

Special mention also goes to producer Mel Miller’s long but animated speech before curtain, which was a show in itself.

The show also included Amy Barker, Jennifer Bernstone, Lindsay Chambers, Kurt Domoney, Jennifer Mackenzie Dunne, Leo Ash Evens, Brian Hedden, Thomas-David McDonald, Ginette Rhodes, Tom Sellwood and Jennifer Sharon Taylor. Dick and Susie choreography by Jeffry Denman and Nancy Lemenager.

Lady, Be Good in Concert
Back Stage June 27, 2003
Reviewed by Victor Gluck

The Gershwins’ 1924 Lady, Be Good was their first Broadway collaboration and it gave Fred and Adele Astaire one of their biggest hits. It also introduced the classic "Fascinating Rhythm," "The Half of It Dearie Blues," and the title song. This rare Musicals Tonight revival, directed and choreographed by Thomas Mills, proved that this lighthearted musical comedy is still entertaining after nearly 80 years.

Like the Astaires, the leading characters are brother-and-sister dance team Susie and Dick Trevor. When we meet them, however, they are unemployed. After they are evicted from their New England family homestead, they look for get-rich-quick schemes: Dick plans to become engaged to heiress Josephine Vanderwater, though he really loves Shirley Vernon, and Susie is convinced by shyster lawyer Watty Watkins to impersonate a Mexican widow in order to get their hands on four million dollars. Nothing goes as planned and this romantic comedy ends with four happily married couples by the final curtain.

As the brother-sister act and performing their own choreography to such wonderful songs as "Hang On to Me," "I’d Rather Charleston," and "Swiss Miss," the tall, slender Jeffry Denman and the vivacious, pert Nancy Lemenager stop the show with their tap dancing, soft shoe, Charleston, etc. As Susie’s love interest, swarthy Doug Wynn reveals a rich singing voice and a leading man personality in their duet, "So Am I," and his solo, "Oh Lady, Be Good."

The production is particularly fine in its lead comics. In a parody of P.G. Wodehouse’s characters penned by book writers Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson, Thomas-David McDonald’s Bertie Bassett (complete with believable upper-crust British accent) is a delight. As the shyster lawyer, Doug Shapiro’s delivery is most likely inspired by early Groucho Marx. As always, musical director James Stenborg does yeoman service at the piano.

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