REVIEWS: Look, Ma, I'm Dancin'!

Look, Ma, I’m Dancin’! Review March 10th, 2000
Reviewed by Martin Denton

Musical comedy books don’t get much skimpier than the one that Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee stitched together for Look, Ma, I’m Dancin’!, a mediocre but harmless show from the 1947-48 season that is now being presented in a concert version by Mel Miller’s Musicals Tonight! Indeed, given what these gentlemen achieved later in their careers -- the landmark courtroom drama Inherit the Wind and the book for the hit musical Mame, to name just two items -- the inanity and superficiality of Look, Ma’s book is something of a surprise; especially given the relatively juicy concept (credited to Jerome Robbins) on which it was based. The hook: brewery heiress and ex-vaudevillian Lily Molloy backs a struggling ballet troupe (to the tune of a million dollars) to secure legitimate employment for herself, and winds up taking control of the company and helping her ex-hoofer pal Eddie Winkler become chief choreographer. Eddie succeeds in bringing the stale old Russian repertory up-to-date with a sassy adaptation of "Swan Lake" set in a steno pool, scores with the critics, and gets a Hollywood contract to boot.

Lawrence and Lee undercut this simple-minded little fairy tale with numerous romantic subplots involving people nobody cares about; characterization -- or lack thereof -- is the hallmark of this particular libretto. Songwriter Hugh Martin (Meet Me in St. Louis) doesn’t help things much with a colorless score composed of interchangeable, bland love ballads and not-very-funny comic numbers. The best of these are a sunny little duet for one of the (three!) secondary love pairs called "Little Boy Blues" and the finale, a "Friendship" knock-off called "The Two of Us." But this score is nearly as undistinguished as the book.

So, all that being the case, why would anyone want to revive Look, Ma, I’m Dancin’!? And why would anyone want to see it? The reasons are the ones that made it a modest success in the first place, more than fifty years ago (it ran nearly six months and actually made a profit): a scene-stealing starring role for comedienne Nancy Walker and the electrifying vision of choreographer Jerome Robbins, whose work back then was still very much in its formulative stages. Of course, neither of these artists is on hand for this production, but their spirits inform it. Watching comedienne Jennifer Allen (who reminds us more of Faith Prince than Nancy Walker) put over a song like "I’m the First Girl in the Second Row" makes us appreciate the dying art of the deadpan show-stopper. And seeing scene after scene of Look, Ma’s ebullient romanticization of show business gypsy life, and its provocative peek into Robbins’ own future as a palpable link between the worlds of classical dance and Broadway hoofing, is endlessly interesting. Hints of glories to come in the musical Gypsy and other Robbins works abound; hero Eddie Winkler -- who is all at once a tyrant, a genius, and an asexual "pal" to Lily Molloy who fails to get the girl at end of the show -- strikes me as a surprisingly autobiographical creation.

So there’s plenty to gnaw on here, even as we realize that Look, Ma, I’m Dancin’! is hardly a lost musical theatre treasure. There’s also -- as there always is in a Musicals Tonight production -- plenty of energetic young talent to take it. Noah Racey, who plays Eddie (a role originated by Harold Lang) is a fine dancer, and even though his acting and singing is less accomplished, he’s a pleasure to watch, particularly in his opening tap solo. Rob Lorey is engaging as Eddie’s half-hearted rival Larry, and delivers a couple of the love ballads -- "I’m Not So Bright" and "Tiny Room" -- effectively. Julian Brightman is engaging as the oddly-named Wotan, Richard Ruis is exactly right as the imperious Russian dance impresario Plancek, and Sally Mae Dunn does what she can with the soubrette role of Dusty. Ryan Duncan works hard in a variety of roles. The music is played nicely by accompanist C. Colby Sachs.

Look, Ma, I’m Dancin’!
Hi! Drama March 17th, 2000
Reviewed by Eva Heinemann)

Look, Ma, I’m Dancin’!, a 1948 Hugh Martin/Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee/Jerry Robbins musical.

Beer heiress funds a ballet company so she can dance, but she’s so dreadful they demote her to dancing the thorn in Spectre of the Rose. She feels beer is like ballet: secret in the hops. While they’re touring across America all the different unrequited love affairs get resolved in typical musical comedy fashion.

This is great for balletomanes with all the amusing ballet references -- especially turning "Swan Lake" into a hootchy kootchy modern ballet called "Steno Pool."

Terrific comic acting by Jennifer Allan as the beer heiress. Tip top tapping by Noah Racey as male ingénue. Amy Goldberger with her Kristen Chenowith voice and Julian Brightman as her comic dancing side-kick bemoan their childlike stature in "Little Boy Blues" with the clever lyrics: "every guy I find satisfyin’ treats me like Margaret O’Brian." Cabaret singers take note of heartbreaking ballads like "All My Life" and "Tiny Room."

Aptly directed by Thomas Mills. Thank you Mel Miller for helping bring these musical gems to light with Musicals Tonight.

The World Of Dance With Francis Mason
96.3 WQXR March 19, 2000
Reviewed by Francis Mason

Whoever thought we’d see a revival of an early Jerome Robbins musical that’s really sensational? But downtown on East 14th Street today only that’s what happening. The show is Look, Ma, I’m Dancin’! originally conceived by Robbins n 1948 with book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee and music and lyrics by Hugh Martin. This revival on Mainstage at the 14th Street "Y," 344 East 14th Street, has been brilliantly directed and choreographed by Thomas Mills in Mel Miller’s crisp sentimental production. You can tell that he really believes in musicals about moon, spoon and June where girl A loves boy B who loves girl C who loves Boy D. I never saw this show on Broadway but the very gifted hoofers and singers assembled here call up stet memories of Nancy Walker, Janet Reed and Katherine Sure Ava, who starred in the original. The musical’s about what happened to a ballet troupe on tour when a young choreographer gets a chance to dump "Swan Lake" for a jazzy ballet. The cast puts across one song and dance after another with a contagious joy we don’t get to see very often these days. There are two more performances, today at 2 and 7pm at 344 East 14th Street… and that’s the story on the World of Dance. This is Francis Mason.

Break a leg - Look, Ma, I’m Dancin’!
Off-Off Broadway March 2000
Reviewed by Doug DeVita

There is a saying that democracy is a good thing, except when in the theatre. The 1948 musical, Look, Ma, I’m Dancin’! is the perfect example of why this saying is true. Originally conceived by the late Jerome Robbins as a starring vehicle for the 26-year-old Nancy Walker, the show very democratically gives every supporting player his or her turn, or turns, in the spotlight; and before long, the story the characters and the show itself get lost as inconsequential musical numbers pile up like planes over JFK.

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s book concerns the cross-country tour of a rickety ballet company being financed by Lily, a brewery heiress/ballet dancer wannabe. When the awful ballet created for her by a young American choreographer becomes an unexpected hit, the company, and the show, falls apart. Walker must have been a very good sport, the show’s only innovation being the first star vehicle to dispense with the star midway through the show. In fact, the second act is the musical comedy equivalent of Spam -- filler of dubious origin and no nutritional value. There are some lovely melodies in Hugh Martin’s score, but it is not a particularly memorable one, especially compared to that of another current revival from 1948, the peerless Kiss Me Kate.

Jennifer Allen, a fabulous Miss Adelaide in the recent Broadway Guys & Dolls, did what she could with the underwritten role of Lily. Her natural glow, strong comic presence, and wonderful voice almost disguised that she was given nothing to do except bear the brunt of the show’s lamest jokes and least-memorable music. Which she did with grace, humor, and professionalism of a true star. As the egocentric prima ballerina of the company, Rita Rehn was a tempestuous delight, while Amy Goldberger and Julian Brightman, as one of several pairs of ingénue/juveniles, stole the show each time they bolted on stage. The rest of the large cast worked as hard as they could to make their characters believable and even lovable, and the fact that they succeeded was a testament to their talent and dedication.

Thomas Mills directed with his usual brisk energy, although there was precious little dancing in a show that owes its very existence to the world of dance. What choreography there was, by Mills and Noah Racey, was inadequate to the enormous terpsichorean needs of the show, the big ballet burlesque that ends the first act truncated and unfunny. There was no set; rehearsal clothes served as costumes; the lighting by Lita Riddock, was serviceable; and C. Colby Sachs provided solid, if uninspired, musical direction.

If the fizz that earmarked earlier Musicals Tonight productions was missing, it was still a vast improvement from their last production, the dismal King of Hearts. At the very least, to see an intriguing title from an anthology of musical theatre history come to life is a welcomed opportunity, even if sometimes that title should have remained just that, in a closed book on a library shelf.

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