REVIEWS: Let's Face It

Let's Face It in Concert
Back Stage May 15, 2006
Reviewed by Lisa Jo Sagolla

The star of Let's Face It is the show itself - a breezy, old-fashioned musical comedy with a tuneful score of witty Cole Porter songs and salty, comic dialogue by Dorothy and Herbert Fields.

Originally produced on Broadway in 1941, the cleverly written yet amusingly silly show represents a style of entertainment for which New York theatregoers seem starved. As a diet of current Broadway fare can prove ungratifying to lovers of smartly literate musical theatre, it is no wonder the sold-out opening night of Let's Face It generated a line at the box office extending way out onto the sidewalk - and no, not everyone was over 65; many were not even close. The event attracted a diverse audience, including the legendary performer George S. Irving; David Lahm, Dorothy Fields' son; and the actor who understudied star Danny Kaye in the show's original production.

Presented in a staged concert version by Musicals Tonight!, Let's Face It makes for a snappy evening of fun with heavy nostalgic overtones. In his preshow speech, producer Mel Miller transports us back in time, offering a plethora of engrossing facts about the history of the show and the period in which it was created.

Performing with books in hand, the cast of Let's Face It is less than first-rate. It doesn't outshine but rather underlines the stylistic conventions of the material. Under the leadership of musical director James Stenborg, the refreshingly unamplified  singing deftly serves the composer's intentions. We don't miss a single one of Porter's bons mots. The comedy of the show's saucy story - about three wives who take up with young soldiers to make their philandering husbands jealous - is delivered in appropriately brassy, fast-talking fashion and supported by director-choreographer Thomas Mills' lively staging.

Presented by Musicals Tonight! at the 45th Street Theatre, 354 W. 45th St., NYC. May 9-21. Tue.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Wed., Sat., and Sun., 2:30 p.m.

Let's Face It Review May 10, 2006
Reviewed by David Fuller

Mel Miller has been producing Musicals Tonight! since 1998. It is a commendable undertaking, presenting book-in-hand stagings of forgotten or neglected musicals, and certainly the well of material is much larger than is tapped annually by City Center’s Encores series. Plus, Miller’s presentations are a reasonably priced alternative/addition to Encores. Musicals Tonight! has grown into an annual staging of five musicals, plus ancillary events. Its audience continues to grow and its list of contributors is impressive. At best, such presentations help us rediscover past masterpieces worthy of full-scale production. At least, the stagings give us a window into theatre history and insights into our past.

Let’s Face It probably falls into the latter category. This Cole Porter (music & lyrics) and Dorothy and Herbert Fields (book) musical was a hit after opening just weeks before Pearl Harbor in the late fall of 1941. It starred Danny Kaye, Eve Arden, and Vivian Vance and featured Nanette Fabray. In 1943 it became a movie musical with Eve Arden reprising her Broadway role and also starring Betty Hutton and Bob Hope, who played the Danny Kaye role. It was adapted for television in 1954 for the Colgate Comedy Hour with Gene Nelson, Vivian Blaine and Bert Lahr. The source for Let's Face It was an old Norma Mitchell/Russell G. Medcraft stage play, The Cradle Snatchers.

The story is simple: three wealthy middle-aged women suspect their husbands of philandering while on vacation in the Hamptons. The men say they are going fishing but Maggie (the Eve Arden role) and her friends think otherwise. To get back at their husbands and to hopefully rekindle their marriages by awaking the green-eyed monster, the ladies hire three soldiers to be their escorts for the weekend.

One of the soldiers, Jerry (the Danny Kaye role), is perpetually engaged to a girl named Minnie. He takes the escort assignment for the cash needed to finally make his wedding happen. Minnie learns of the “job” and gets two of her friends (girlfriends of the other two soldiers) to make a play for the older men, who, by the way, really were just going fishing. Six couples are thus embroiled in a 1940s farce heavy on the double entendres, veiled sex jokes, and topical references. That is really the problem with Let’s Face It today. Although one can appreciate the humor, it really isn’t as funny today as it must have been some 60 years ago.

Still, the Musicals Tonight! company version makes for an enjoyable diversion. The cast of 16, including a four-person ensemble, does commendable work. In the role of Jerry, Blake Whyte does a fine job. Among other standouts, Amy Barker is just right as one of the jealous wives, Cornelia, and Jessica Scholl is very good as one of the girlfriends, Jean. The direction and choreography by Thomas Mills is clever, making full use of the space and stretching the constraints imposed by book-in-hand movements. This is not Cole Porter’s best score, but the prolific writer does come through with a couple of numbers, "You Irritate Me So" and "Let’s Not Talk About Love."

All in all, it is an amusing evening and an interesting glimpse into the popular escapism of the period. Those in the audience who actually lived through those times clearly enjoyed the evening immensely. So, kudos to Musicals Tonight! for bringing us this musical, which, if not a gem, at least shines enough to be worth viewing as a staged reading.

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