REVIEWS: Let It Ride

Let It Ride! June 13th, 1998
Reviewed by Martin Denton

There’s a delightful surprise at the Lamb’s Theatre this month. It’s called Let It Ride!, and it’s a staged concert version of a musical comedy by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, first produced (and last seen) on Broadway in 1961. Messrs. Livingston and Evans are the gentleman responsible for "Silver Bells," "Dear Heart," "Mona Lisa," "Buttons and Bows," "Que Sera Sera" and dozens of other hit songs. They provided nineteen winning tunes for this opus, which is based on the comedy Three Men on a Horse. Producer Mel Miller, the guiding light behind this revival, has assembled a cast of ten appealing young singers and actors who put over all nineteen numbers with enthusiasm and style, as well as read and enact an abridged version of Let It Ride!’s dopey, simple-minded book. The result: pure theatrical magic -- a happy, funny, utterly charming entertainment offering a couple of hours of pleasant diversion and, not incidentally, a terrific showcase for some very deserving, very talented musical theatre performers.

As you have probably realized, Let It Ride! was not a hit back in 1961; it ran for about nine weeks and then disappeared. It tells the story of Erwin Trowbridge, a mild-mannered young man who works as a verse writer for a greeting card company. Erwin is in love with co-worker Audrey, but he needs to get a raise before he can afford to marry her. Unfortunately, Erwin’s boss Mr. Carver is also enamored of Audrey, and so he denies Erwin’s request for more money, causing Erwin to quit. Our hero winds up drowning his sorrows in a local bar, where he meets up with Patsy a gruff but tender-hearted gambler, along with Patsy’s floozy girlfriend Mabel and an assortment of his lowlife colleagues, who are all, needless to say, as lovable as Patsy himself. When Patsy finds out that Erwin seems to have a foolproof knack for picking the winners of horse races, he latches onto the hapless young man. Complications, as they say, ensue; but of course by the end of Act Two Erwin gets both his job and Audrey back and everything ends happily for just about everyone concerned.

Of course it’s silly and unbelievable and inconsequential -- though not necessarily more so than the books of other musicals of the period like Bye Bye Birdie or Subways are for Sleeping -- but that’s the point, really. The book for shows like Let It Ride! exist only to provide a frame on which to hang a dozen or so entertaining musical numbers and an equal number of amusing gags, all to show off, to the best possible advantage, the stars and the comics and the pretty ladies in the chorus. Old-fashioned? Absolutely; but it’s a formula that worked for decades. I don’t know how well the original Let It Ride! delivered on all of this thirty years ago. This production delivers, and in spades.

Let me tell you about these engaging players at the Lamb’s Theatre. There’s a fellow named Gary Lynch, who has appeared in Les Miserables among other shows, who has square-jawed good looks, a resonant baritone, and a delightful twinkle in his eye. He doubles here as Erwin’s slightly deceitful boss Mr. Carver and as a tough guy named Nice Nose Brophy; he’s terrific in both roles, and makes the most of two fairly loopy songs in the show’s first act.

There’s also a gentleman named E.J. Carroll, a big, strapping man who is cast as Patsy. To this role he brings the bluster and sure comic timing of a Nathan Lane and the nimble grace -- notable for a man of his size -- of a Jackie Gleason. He would steal the show single-handedly, probably, except that Robin Baxter is on hand doing some pretty major larceny of her own. This lovely young lady plays both Audrey and Patsy’s moll Mabel (think Miss Adelaide from Guys and Dolls and you’ve got Mabel pegged). Ms. Baxter is formidable as shrill, dumb, sweet Mabel especially in the outsized burlesque turn "I Wouldn’t Have Had To" that brings Act One to a resounding finish. But she’s nearly as memorable as the less interesting Audrey, delivering the show’s solid love ballad "Love, let Me Know" with simple sincerity. Watch what Ms. Baxter does in the finale, when both of her characters are on stage together, and you’ll see what a promising find she is.

And, with all that said, no one in the company is more engaging than the show’s leading man, David Gurland. He’s an unassuming guy, with big brown eyes and a day’s growth of stubble on his chin; he plays Erwin with a refreshing guilelessness that brings to mind the young Robert Morse, and he sings Erwin’s songs in an attractive light tenor that is sweet and effortless. This, too, is a young man to keep an eye on.

Mr. Miller, and his director Thomas Mills and his casting director Stephen De Angelis, are to be commended for bringing together such a superlative company. (I should add here that the six supporting players -- Aaron Ellis, Jennifer Miller, Wayne Pretlow, Tom Reidy, Rachell Lynn Ricca, and Joy E.T. Ross -- all do fine work here as well.) In addition to outsized talent, what shines through Let It Ride! is outsized joy: these performers seem genuinely delighted to be here, telling us this silly, innocent, dated tale. Their enthusiasm in not only infectious, it’s enlarging: it’s hard to imagine someone leaving this frothy little musical without feeling just a bit happier then when he or she came in.

Let It Ride!
Buzz NYC/LA June, 1998
Reviewed by David Fisco

It all started on January 30th, 1935, when John Cecil Holm and George Abbott’s play, Three Men on a Horse, opened in New York. A movie and a musical version followed. Then, in 1961 Let It Ride! (based on Three Men on a Horse) opened on Broadway. The music and lyrics were by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans; the book was by Abram S. Ginnes. It lasted 68 performances. Meanwhile, at Columbia University, student Mel Miller became enchanted by the original cast recording of the show. Being on a student’s budget, Miller could not afford a ticket. By 1998, Miller had a career as an engineer and consultant behind him and turned his energies to theatrical production with his own company, Mel Miller and Associates. Of course, the first show was to be Let It Ride! This production of Let It Ride! contains four Livingston and Evans numbers not in the original production. It also incorporates additional vocal arrangements.

Let It Ride! is an old-fashioned musical comedy. It contains a simple, comic book-like plot about a misfit poet who has a knack for picking horses and is in love with a blonde girl. The tunes are fun and the book is light. It does not resemble the new material we are seeing produced on Broadway: there is no spectacle potential and this is not a musical drama the likes of Stephen Sondheim’s work. Still, it is an amusing and fast show worthy of seeing for its nostalgic value, if nothing else.

This production is a staged concert reading of the musical. There are no sets or costumes and the performers carry their scripts at all time. Director Thomas Mills does an admirable job of extracting quality performances despite these limitations. The musical direction and additional vocal arrangements of Mark W. Hartman are extraordinarily sharp. Casting Director Stephen DeAngelis has assembled an accomplished cast; many of the performers have one or more Broadway credits. Most notable is Robin Baxter as Audrey/Mabel. Baxter has an excellent vocal instrument, employed well in this production. Her "I Wouldn’t Have Had To" is a highlight of the show. (Baxter will be seen as Betty Blast in Footloose, soon to be on Broadway.) David Gurland developed a good character voice for the misfit Erwin. Jennifer Miller, Rachel Lynn Ricca and Joy E.T. Ross were also impressive in their ensemble roles.

Mel Miller and Associates’ charter is to produce more musicals in this staged concert format. From a financial perspective, this provides a lower-risk alternative for mounting burgeoning productions. These shows should cost less to produce and quality performers can be employed as the rehearsal and performance commitment is smaller than that of a full production. (In the case of Let It Ride!, the performers are working gratis, under an AEA approved showcase.) While the commercial viability of Let It Ride! is uncertain, this business model and company are worthy of attention and should prove successful in bringing many more works to light.

Let It Ride!
New York Today June 1998
Reviewed by Marc Miller

The recent concert version of St. Louis Women proved that musicals are often underappreciated the first time around, but all Let It Ride! proves is that when you dig too deeply for gold, the mine may collapse.

A 68-performance flop in 1961, this musicalization of the George Abbot-John Cecil Holm farce Three Men on a Horse is most interesting today as a road map of the sexual mores of its era, with a text as antiquated as the Hammurabi. "Broads ain’t people…," sings a supporting character, going on to philosophize that the best way to keep a dame in line is with physical force. Later, in "Honest Work," Patsy the racetrack tout (Sam Levene in the original, E.J. Carroll here) compliments his three prostitute pals on the nobility of their profession; they respond with squeals of delight and yards of lyrics.

The book by Abram S. Ginnes leaps as quickly as possible to the next song, but most of the songs make you wonder why it was so eager. Yet this modest concert version isn’t without its charms, mainly of the rising-talent variety. As Erwin, the milquetoast greeting-card writer with a knack for picking Derby winners, David Gurland is successful, especially when singing the one appealing ballad, "His Own Little Island." And as both of the women in his life, Robin Baxter is strong-voiced, hilarious, and even touching.

Let It Ride!
Back Stage July 17th, 1998
Reviewed by Victor Gluck

First incarnated as Three Men on a Horse by John Cecil Holm and George Abbott, the musical Let It Ride! was last seen on Broadway in 1961, where it played only 68 performances. Now Mel Miller has attempted to revive it with a staged concert reading at the Lamb’s Threatre, with a cast of nine accompanied by piano and synthesizer.

It is not hard to see why Let It Ride! failed. Covering much of the same territory as Guys and Dolls, it is a pale imitation without any innovations of its own. The score by the Hollywood team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, who have three Oscars, is pleasant but has no hit song. Abram S. Ginnes’ book waters down the already tenuous plot of Three Men on a Horse.

Nonetheless, as adapted by Miller and staged by Thomas Mills, this concert staging of Let It Ride! is enjoyable without pretending to be anything it isn’t. Miller’s adaptation cuts much of the dialogue but puts back four songs cut from the Broadway production. Except for a flat opening number set in the Port Authority bus station, Mills’ direction is clever, particularly in the doubling of characters and split-stage effects.

For anyone who did not see the recent Tony Randall-Jack Klugman Three Men On a Horse, it concerns Erwin, a writer of greeting-card jingles, who gets mixed up with bookies who want him to dope out the winner of the Kentucky Derby. The entire cast is talented and hard working, with Robin Baxter the standout as both Erwin’s demure fiancée, Audrey, and the femme fatale, Mabel, used to seduce him. Gary Lynch is amusing as both villains. As a hero, David Gurland is suitably nebbishy and endearing, Rachel Lynn Ricca and Joy E.T. Ross are delightful as first hookers and later New Jersey cops.

Let It Ride!
June 1998

With City Center’s "Encore Series" and the York Theatre’s "Mufti Series," old forgotten Broadway shows which have not seen the light since their beginnings are being revived, giving a newer generation a chance to see these shows of the past. Kudos go to Mel Miller who, on his own, produced and adapted Let It Ride! to continue the trend. All these revivals are elaborated stage readings, without sets or costumes. A theatre lover, Mel worked very hard to find every song written for this show, whether it was performed on Broadway or cut out while on the road.

The musical which opened 37 years ago on Broadway, starred George Gobel, Sam Levine and Barbara Nichols with songs by legendary Hollywood Academy Award winning tunesmiths, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans ("Buttons and Bows," "Que Sera, Sera" and TV themes "Mr. Ed" and "Bonanza," to name a few). The show was presented on the stage of the Lambs Theatre for several weeks. It had a strong cast, many of whom have played several roles. David Gurland, who played the lead, George Gobel’s role, and two ladies Robin Baxter and Rachel Lynn Ricca, were all great talents.

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