REVIEWS: Foxy

Foxy
NYTheatre.com Review December 6th, 2000
Reviewed by Martin Denton

Only the most dedicated musical comedy fans are going to know anything about Foxy, the latest of Musical Tonight’s invaluable concert revivals of lost shows of yesteryear. Here’s what they’ll probably recollect: that it was crafted as a vehicle for the great clown Bert Lahr, and that Lahr won a Tony Award for this, his last Broadway appearance; that it features a score by Robert Emmett Dolan and Johnny Mercer and a book by Hollywood Ten screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr.; that it was disliked by producer David Merrick, whose attentions at the time were more focused on Hello Dolly!, which arrived in New York about a month before Foxy; that it takes place in Canada’s Yukon Territory, and -- remarkably -- had its pre-Broadway tryout there as well; and that, practically alone among major ‘60s Broadway musicals, it was never recorded.

That last factoid, all by itself, makes this revival of Foxy enormously welcome: here is that chance to hear a score that has been honestly lost for nearly forty years. It turns out to be pretty good, too, with lyricist Mercer in top form on comic numbers like "Bon Vivant" (a tour de force for Lahr’s character), "The Honeymoon Is Over" (a lament sung by two women who haven’t yet, technically, become wives), and "Many Ways to Skin a Cat" (in which the two leads devise their plan to get even with three welching associates and thus set the plot into motion). There’s also a lovely ballad for the obligatory sweet young couple, "Talk to Me Baby," and a couple of rouses for the full company ("Rollin’ in Gold," "My Night to Howl").

Lardner’s book, too, is far better than you’d expect, given Foxy’s status as one of the theatre’s more obscure flops. It’s an adaptation of Ben Jonson’s Volpone, with the title character recast as Foxy J. Fox, a genial but greedy old fellow who is abandoned by his pals Bedrock, Shortcut, and Buzzard right after he tells them about a gold strike at the Klondike River. A con man named Doc Mosk happens to be nearby, and it’s not long before he has teamed up with Foxy in a scheme to swindle that avaricious trio out of all their wealth. Foxy and Doc arrive in the Yukon with an enormous chest they claim is filled with gold (but is actually filled with buckshot); they announce that Foxy is dying and looking to appoint an heir. As expected, Bedrock, Shortcut, and Buzzard instantly apply for the position, and the fun begins.

Subplot concern Doc’s renewal of his affair with Brandy, the local madam; and a romance between Celia, a destitute young woman who decides to sell herself to the highest bidder, and Ben, Bedrock’s son, who returns from college (at Dartmouth) just in time to save Celia from her fate and, incidentally, to get himself embroiled in Foxy’s shenanigans. Lardner and his collaborator Ian McLellan Hunter keep things light and quick, packing plenty of foolish gags and good-natured broad, farcical humor in a story that, in less skilled hands, would be vulgar, offensive, or worse.

Mostly, what all of the creators have done here is to provide their star with moment after moment to shine, and if you’re at all familiar with Lahr’s unique comic persona, you’ll smile with recognition at each one. Foxy makes his entrance howling in pain, his foot caught in a bear trap ("gnong, gnong"); as the evening progresses, he gets to chase a pretty girl around a bed, impersonate an English nobleman, and examine himself with a stethoscope. The accomplished comic actor-singer Rudy Roberson plays Foxy in this production and, to his credit, makes the part his own, without ever diminishing the innate Lahr-ness of the role.

The rest of Foxy company is just as good. Rob Lorey is a sly, appealing Doc, more than holding his own in several charming numbers like "It’s Easy When You Know How" and "I’m Way Ahead of the Game." David Sabella, Andrew Gitzy, and Jay Brian Winnick are brash and funny as Bedrock, Buzzard, and Shortcut, respectively, and they harmonize beautifully throughout the show. George Pellegrino and Natasha Harper are the earnest, sweet-voiced juveniles Ben and Celia, while Jessica Frankel is an exuberant and lusty Brandy. Thomas Mills’ staging is looser and more vivid than usual, and Robert Felstein provides excellent accompaniment from the lone piano. All in all, this is about as accomplished a production as Musicals Tonight has ever mounted. Quite apart from the (considerable) curiosity value, Foxy provides a solidly entertaining evening, full of laughter and pleasant music.

This is not a musical that Broadway producers need to cast their eyes over: Foxy is not, by any means, ripe for revival. (Not unless Bert Lahr gets reincarnated, anyway.) Mel Miller’s Musicals Tonight is precisely the venue for a show like this. It’s a nice piece of American theatre history, and it’s a lot of fun besides -- not a bad deal at all.

One more thing: Miller tells me that there will be a cast album of this Foxy: something for all those diehard fans to look forward to.

Foxy
Hi! Drama December 8th, 2000
Reviewed by Eva Heinemann

Once again I’m left with a big smile on my face -- all because of Johnny Mercer’s musicalization of Volpone -- called Foxy. Music is by Robert Emmett Dolan; book by Ian McLellan Hunter and Ring Lardner, Jr. Influenced, I’m sure, by Alan Jay Lerner’s Paint Your Wagon -- it involves the Gold Rush, greed and revenge.

Mel Miller has outdone himself assembling one of the finest casts I’ve ever seen or heard.

Rudy Roberson as Foxy is a true Bon Vivant. The treacherous trio who betray Foxy are David Sabella, Andrew Gitzy and Jay Brian Winnick. Masterminding the whole con is Rob Lorey and his Madame Lady-love, Jessica Frankel who belts out songs while the boys belt it back. Ingénues were Natasha Harper and George Pellegrino.

Tom Mills directed and choreographed with his usual finesse, accompanied by Robert Felstein’s clever music direction and vocal and dance arrangements.

Believe me, you don’t want to miss the Gilbert and Sullivan-esque "The Letter of the Law" -- it’s so timely.

Time for me to go to bed and dream that all theatre will be as delightful as Foxy. Good night!

Foxy
Off-Off Broadway Review.com December 14th, 2000
Reviewed by Doug DeVita)

Musicals Tonight, after a series of disappointing productions, is back on track in a big way with their current revival of the 1964 Foxy. Based on Ben Jonson’s 1607 comedy Volpone, the musical was conceived as a vehicle for the incomparable Bert Lahr, whose Tony winning performance couldn’t even keep the show open longer than nine weeks.

It isn’t hard to understand why it failed. Volpone is a dark work that exposes human greed with a sharp, twisted knife. The musical that has been fashioned from Johnson’s original comedy isn’t nearly as cutting or fresh. Updated to the Gold-Rush Yukon Territory on 1896, the vaguely sinister story loses something at the expense of local color. Nearly every dong is melodic but unmemorable, and every character, especially the main role of Foxy, is underwritten, as if waiting for a larger than life personality to fill in the gaps the writers left out.

But in the hands of director Thomas Mills, working here at the top of his form, Musicals Tonight’s concert version shows just how larger than life personalities can take mediocre material and spin it into a giddy and wonderful evening’s entertainment. As Foxy, Rudy Roberson has the unenviable task of filling snowshoes made for the inimitable Lahr with his own decidedly smaller feet. But as they say about good things coming in small packages, Roberson was a delight and made the role his own. He was matched every step of the way by one of the strongest supporting casts yet assembled for a Musical Tonight production. (Kudos to casting director Stephen DeAngelis for another terrific job for this company.) Especially outstanding were Andrew Gitzy, John Flynn and David Sabella as a trio of swindlers who would do absolutely anything, from disinheriting a son to handing over a virginal bride, in the hopes of being named in Foxy’s will. Sabella in particular had moments of sublime lunacy, especially when, in a drunken stupor, he was tricked into measuring the same bag of gold over and over again. It was in scenes like this that the evening benefited from Mills’ invention, who used the books-in-hand approach endemic to concerts to superlative advantage with a series of sight gags that actually grew in appeal as the evening progressed.

Performed on the (appropriate) set of another show using the same space, the production had a basic but apt look, with simple rough-hewnish costuming (uncredited) and excellent lighting by Shih-hui Wu. Mills’ choreography was a bit more adventurous than in recent productions, to this production’s advantage, and Music Director Robert Felstein got superb work from his singers, especially from the big-voiced Jessica Frankel, Rob Lorey and the afore-mentioned Sabella.

Strangely enough, the last completely satisfying production at Musicals Tonight was another star vehicle, the delightful By The Beautiful Sea. Perhaps star vehicles, when appropriately cast and tended, are the way to go for this company. At any rate, keep up the good work, guys. When you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

While Big Shows Plod More Heavily, Little Ones Get Wispier
The Moment's Musicals (III)
The Village Voice January 2nd, 2001
Reviewed by Michael Feingold

Gilbert & Sullivan came to the fore when Mel Miller’s raggedy but invaluable Musicals Tonight gave the first performances of Foxy since 1964, which sets Volpone loose in Dawson City during the Yukon Gold Rush. Among the concert’s many surprise delights was the restoration of a courtroom number, deleted before Broadway, that showed Mercer, master of casual colloquialism, emulating Gilbert’s ornate rhymes and triple-tongued patter. The show has its weak points; the cast gave it a cheerful air of parlor entertainment, so that Jonson’s fable of greed punished conveyed more of the Christmas spirit than anything else around. Flaws and all, it evoked what Broadway once was, and -- with some mega-myths out of the way -- might be again.

Foxy in Concert
Back Stage December 2000
Reviewed by Victor Gluck

Musicals Tonight brought back the 1964 musical, Foxy, in a concert semi-staging, and the results were decidedly mixed. As a musical that cries out for large choruses, lavish sets and costumes, and big dance numbers, the staged reading isn’t suitable for this material.

Foxy’s pedigree is impeccable. The book by Ian McLellan Hunter and Oscar-winning screenwriter, the late Ring Lardner, Jr., was based on Ben Jonson’s classic comedy Volpone. The score was the second Broadway collaboration of famed Hollywood music arranger Robert Emmett Dolan and celebrated lyricist Johnny Mercer. Bert Lahr won a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical.

In this story of greed and conartistry in 1896 Yukon Territory, Foxy attempts to outwit his scheming pals Shortcut, Buzzard, and Bedrock by pretending to be dying and offering to make each of them his heir. Thomas Mills’ direction and choreography weren’t fast enough paced for the show’s burlesque quality. In the role written around Lahr’s special talents, Rudy Roberson seemed neither old enough nor inventive enough to make Foxy the lovable old codger he is intended to be. As his sidekick "Doc," Rob Lorey seemed too young and innocent to be the rascal behind the scam. Jessica Frankel’s saloon keeper never convinced that she was the floozy the script intended.

Nevertheless, the rarely heard score (the show has never been recorded) held many gems. "Talk to Me Baby,", sung by George Pellegrino and Natasha Harper, was an utterly lovely ballad. The Gilbert and Sullivan style patter song, "The Letter of the Law" (cut from the original Broadway production) was wittily sung by Michael Mendiola as Canadian Mounted Police Inspector Stirling. "Many Ways to Skin a Cat," "The Honeymoon Is Over," and "I’m Way Ahead of the Game" offered top draw Mercer lyrics. The trouble was the songs did not seem to be written for the same western score.

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