REVIEWS: I Married an Angel

I Married an Angel
NYTheatre.com Review September 13th, 2000
Reviewed by Martin Denton

The story goes that director Joshua Logan was violently opposed to including "At the Roxy Music Hall" in I Married an Angel: what was a chic satire of then-new Radio City sung in a musical fantasy about an indolent titled Budapest banker who marries an angel from heaven? Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart prevailed, and if you want to see who was right, all you need to do is catch a performance of Musicals Tonight’s concert revival of I Married an Angel, which runs through September 24th at the 14th Street Y. (Note: Dick and Larry were right. And how.)

This is the singular, priceless gift that producer Mel Miller gives musical theatre fans: the chance to witness lost moments of a beloved heritage, up-close and in-person. In this revival of I Married an Angel, we can hear glorious Rodgers melodies like "How Was I To Know?" and the title song, performed with passion by legit tenor Brad Little (lately of Phantom of the Opera). We can revisit the topical humor of "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and the wicked double entendre of "A Twinkle in Your Eye" and recall why Lorenz Hart was so good at what he did. And we can relive the joyous thrill of discovering a genuine show-stopping hit in the aforementioned "At the Roxy Music Hall," which is so well-conceived that it scores big even without a corps of Balanchine dancers to help put it over; so funny that you laugh out loud:

    Step this way
    Hear the super-duper organ play.
    Where the stage goes up and down when they begin it.
    Where they change the lights a hundred times a minute.
    It’s a wonder Mrs. Roosevelt isn’t in it,
    At the Roxy Music Hall.

We can also detect the ever-evolving form of musical comedy in a song like "Angel Without Wings," which is actually a musical scene on the order of "You’re a Queer One, Julie Lordan" in Rodgers’s latest Carousel; it’s fascinating that a single show can contain stirrings of a future golden age like this piece and also an homage to the glorious vaudevillian past like "At the Roxy Musical Hall."

So that’s why we go to Musicals Tonight, for rewards like these. And also to hear great theatre music sung, as it was meant to be, unamplified, by a talented ensemble; and also to enjoy the work of fine, mostly unheralded performers like Nanne Puritz (a sweet-voiced Angel), Kathy Fitzgerald (as the likeably caustic Countess Palaffi), Ritta Rehn (who gets the swell "Roxy Music Hall" number) and Larry Raben (loaded with personality as the secondary juvenile).

Miller produces his shows on a shoestring, so don’t expect much in the way of sets, costumes, or production values. But who cares? It’s cliché to moan that they don’t write ‘em like this anymore (and the sketchy book, which substitutes a fizzy romp about a grandiose movie palace for an actual ending, reminds us why we don’t). But there are plenty of musical theatre buffs like me who grew up wishing they could have been there back in 1938 to see Walter Slezak and Dennis King and Vera Zorina and Vivienne Segal give their all in a frothy new Rodgers & Hart show. This is the next best thing.

I Married an Angel
Back Stage September 22, 2000
Reviewed by Victor Gluck

"If you ever hear I’ve been married, you’ll know an angel flew down from heaven," declares Budapest banker Willy Palaffi, and this gave Rodgers and Hart the premise for their 1938 musical hit, I Married an Angel. Musicals Tonight’s staged reading of this rarely revived, but fondly remembered musical comedy was a mixed blessing.

The unfamiliar score revealed such melodic, witty and syncopated songs as "Spring Is Here," "I’ll Tell the Man In the Street" and the title song. Mark Hartman’s musical direction was always sprightly. The book by Rodgers and Hart themselves, from a Hungarian play by John Vaszrary, proved to be lightweight, but still amusing.

Director Thomas Mills’ staging was solid, but his decision to eliminate the ballets, an integral part of the story, left some gaps in the plot. The unit set (which kept the play moving swiftly without changes) and the uncredited costume designs (all coordinated in red, white, and black) were the epitome of sophistication. Unfortunately, the use of the entire stage even for the intimate scenes was at times distracting.

The women exuded much more personality than the men. Nanne Puritz made a charming, believable Angel, so innocent that she always told the truth even at the expense of her husband’s business. As the rejected fiancée, Ritta Rehn’s vivaciousness as the swinging ex-convent and ex-Roxy dancer almost stole the show in her specialty number, "At the Roxy Music Hall." Kathy Fitzgerald as Peggy, the hero’s wisecracking sister, registered with all of her witty lines, particularly in her rendition of "A Twinkle in Your Eye."

The men tended to be one-dimensional: Brad Little’s arrogant hero was helped by his strong tenor and great looks. As his biggest depositor, Kenny Morris exhibited a prissy stinginess. Larry Raben as the banker’s secretary had a convincing "yes" man.

"Beauty’s truth; truth is beauty/ Gabriel, blow your rooty-tooty!"
WQXR, September 22, 2000
Reviewed by Ben Brantley

This bit of celestial invocation, from the 1930s musical I Married an Angel, suggests what the Bible might sound like had it been written by Lorenz Hart. Actually, to get the full effect you need to hear the words sung, with honeyed harmony, to Richard Rodger’s music, preferably by a Seraphic chorus with Pre-Raphaelite hair.

As it happens, such a choir is on call through this weekend at the 14th Street Y, where I Married an Angel has been given an infectiously loving concert production by Musicals Tonight! Overseen by its tireless producer, Mel Miller, who also collects tickets at the door, Musicals Tonight! is a shoestring variation on the formula behind the beloved Encores series at City Center.

With only a piano in lieu of an orchestra, and an ensemble of varying experience and polish, this production nonetheless offers vivid glimpses into the heaven that is Rodgers and Hart, which of course has room for an earthy spirit of whimsy.

"Are all women bad?" asks the angel who has descended from the sky to marry a mortal. "Only the good ones," answers her worldly mentor, a countess played by the sparkling Kathy Fitzgerald, who proceeds to explain in wickedly rhymed songs that on earth, truth is not necessarily beautiful. At $15 a ticket, such pleasures come cheap indeed. Speaking of Musicals Tonight! at the 14th Street Y, this is Ben Brantley of the New York Times.

No Wings, No Worry, ‘Cause She Sings a Lot in a Hurry
The New York Times September 23, 2000
Reviewed by Ben Brantley

This bit of celestial invocation, from the 1930s musical I Married an Angel, suggests what the Bible might sound like had it been written by Lorenz Hart. Actually, to get the full effect you need to hear the words sung, with honeyed harmony, to Richard Rodger’s music, preferably by a Seraphic chorus with Pre-Raphaelite hair.

As it happens, such a choir is on call through this weekend at the 14th Street Y, where I Married an Angel has been given an infectiously loving concert production by Musicals Tonight! Overseen by its tireless producer, Mel Miller, who also collects tickets at the door, Musicals Tonight! is a shoestring variation on the formula behind the beloved Encores series at City Center.

With only a piano in lieu of an orchestra, and an ensemble of varying experience and polish, this production nonetheless offers vivid glimpses into the heaven that is Rodgers and Hart, which of course has room for an earthy spirit of whimsy. It says much about the show’s tone that when the angel of the title marries a human, she loses her wings on her wedding night.

The charms of the original production, which ran for nearly a year on Broadway, can only be partly realized in a concert staging. Instead of an angel who learns to dance when she can no longer fly, famously created by Vera Zorina, this version offers one who sings. She is played by Nanne Puritz, who is sweet-sounding indeed (in interpolated vocal parts) as the creature who descends to answer the prayers of a love-weary Budapest banker (Brad Little).

But the evening, efficiently stage by Thomas Mills with musical direction by Mark Hartman, really belongs to the worldly. That category notably includes Mr. Little’s converted cynic, who radiantly delivers the title song, and the invaluable Kathy Fitzgerald (of the Broadway revue Swingin’ on a Star) as a man-savvy countess who teaches the angel how to survive on earth.

"Are all women bad?" asks the angel who has descended from the sky to marry a mortal. "Only the good ones," answers the countess, who proceeds to explain in that truth is not necessarily beautiful, in a wicked hymn to deception called "A Twinkle in Your Eye." Ms. Fitzgerald’s knowing rendition alone makes the $15 ticket to the show a heaven-sent bargain.

I Married an Angel
Theatre.com Review September 24th, 2000
Reviewed by Peter Filichia

Musicals Tonight!s reading of I Married an Angel had only a few performances left, so I called 362-5620 to make a reservation.

Then I heard producer Mel Miller’s answering machine voice say that all remaining shows were all sold out.

I was chagrined for me, but happy for him. After all, Miller came to producing late in life. Yes, he went to an Ivy League school, but not Yale Drama: He was graduated from Columbia with a degree in chemical engineering.

That led to a stint at Procter and Gamble, before he got a job peddling computers for IBM, before he invented a tennis instructional device that didn’t sell, before he started an automotive testing service that examined a car’s exhaust system for hydrocarbons, before he conceived of an Internet coupon business with a partner accused of absconding with the funds.

Not the most usual or impressive resume for a producer. But he’d been interested in musicals since he saw Fiddler on the Roof in 1964. Buoyed by the success of "Encores!", Miller thought that he too might try some concert versions of musicals. "And so I started Musicals Tonight!" he sings, to the tune of "Comedy Tonight."

He’s done readings of shows from the ‘20s (Dearest Enemy), ‘40s (Look, Ma, I’m Dancin’!), ‘50s (By The Beautiful Sea), ‘60s (Let It Ride), and the ‘70s (King of Hearts). He wandered from the Lambs’ Theatre to the American Place before he landed in his current location: the decidedly unglamorous 14th Street Y near First Avenue. But that house has been a blessing in disguise, for he’s garnered much of his audience from the neighborhood denizens who use the place as a community center. We musical theater fanatics who never saw the originals -- or care to see them again -- also flocked to the untheatrical neighborhood.

But Miller really scored when he and Musicals Tonight! were the subject of a front-page article in the Sunday Times this summer, when he did Goldilocks. I don’t mean the front page of the arts section; I mean the front page of the whole shebang. There are Tony-winners and people in the Theatrical Hall of Fame who never rated that.

Now Miller and his little company are hot, which is why I was going to be denied a seat. Still, I left a message on his machine saying that I’d come and stand, if everyone who promised to show did.

Luckily, a few didn’t, and I inhabited a seat to see his first foray into ‘30s musicals. I was glad, not only because I wanted to see the show, but also because it featured Kathy Fitzgerald, whom I helped nominate for a Drama Desk Award for her hysterical work in Swingin’ on a Star, and Rita Rehn, who may not be known to you, but sure is to me. She appeared in New Jersey last year in the lead of As Bees in Honey Drown, and in And the World Goes ‘Round. When I bestowed by Bests of the Season roundup, I named her both Best Comic Actress and Best Featured Musical Actress.

Neither let me down this time. Fitzgerald played the acidic friend of the guy who’s disillusioned by love, and wishes for an angel -- who shows up. She was delightfully played by Nanne Puritz, who was even thinner than the plot, in which a man finds a virtuous lady can be a liability in business, because she just won’t say anything that isn’t true. "Are all women bad?" she innocently asked Fitzgerald. "No," said the experienced lady, "Only the good ones."

Rehn, playing the lady who lost our hero -- but will settle for any other guy she meets at any party -- got the most irrelevant number in the plot, but one we wonderfully appreciate: "At the Roxy Musical Hall," in which she details the splendor of the long-disappeared palace. Rehn had to sing Lorenz Hart’s tricky lyrics, play a ventriloquist, dance, and do a cartwheel, before returning to the song, which she continued doing though technically winded. She’s one of musical theatre’s undiscovered secrets, though I’m doing my part to spill the beans.

Once the show was over, I felt fortunate that Miller was able to squeeze me in. Believe me, before he does Foxy Dec. 5-17, I’m going to call 362-5620 long before Thanksgiving.

I Married an Angel
Off-Off Broadway Review.com September 24th, 2000
Reviewed by Doug DeVita

Like an air-filled balloon, Rodgers and Hart’s 1938 musical fantasy I Married an Angel needs constant effort to stay afloat. The creaky book, which may have passed for smart entertainment 60 years ago, is a rather silly attempt at "mittle european" froth that needs a first-rate production to be viable today.

In Budapest in the late 1930s, Count Willy Palaffi, head of the Palaffi bank, swears to marry no one but an angel, and of course, almost instantaneously one flies right into his room, wings and all. They marry, but her truth-telling ways anger his wealthy depositors and cause a run on the bank. Willy’s sister, the daffy Countess Palaffi, indoctrinates the angel into the ways of this world, and all ends up happily, right on cue.

Musicals Tonight!s concert production, produced with admirable dedication by the fearlessly charming Mel Miller and under the capable direction of Thomas Mills, was only partially successful in recreating the magic of late-30s Broadway. With very little in the way of sets, costumes, and lighting, and almost no choreography (a shame, since the original production, choreographed by George Balachine, was a heavy dance show -- really Mr. Miller, you must take these needs into consideration when you choose your repertory!), the evening came to life only fitfully, and even then only by the extraordinary efforts of the vivacious cast and their glorious voices. (Kudos to Musical Director Mark Hartman.)

Brad Little was superb as Palaffi, and his rendition of the immortal ballad "Spring is Here" was sublime. Nanne Puritz, as the angel of the title, was a perfect match for him, her simple, pure performance making love at first sight the only option for everyone involved, especially the audience. Kathy Fitzgerald played the Countess Palaffi with a wryly impish sparkle, and was mainly responsible for whatever witty sophistication the evening possessed. Funny, solid support was lent by Kenny Morris and Larry Raben, and in a very small role, Lois Saunders impressed with her beautifully regal grace.

Whenever this gifted cast opened their mouths to sing, I Married an Angel soared to the heavens and stayed delicately afloat -- at least until the book brought it crashing back to earth with a jolting thud. A pale reminder of the snap and fizz that used to be the staple of Broadway musical comedy, at least this production delivered where it counted: it WAS musical, and in a concert version, perhaps that’s what counts the most.

I Married an Angel
Billboard: Reviews & Previews September 30, 2000
Reviewed by Mark Sullivan

Seemingly more than most, New Yorkers love rediscovering things, which is why they are always picking through piles of dusty, old merchandise in flea markets, used-record stores, and vintage-clothing bins. Everyone hopes to get his or her hands on something valuable that others have overlooked.

It’s not so different when it comes to theatre, which accounts for the popularity of productions of obscure old musicals. It is exhilarating to be in the audience when a true gem is uncovered, such as the critically acclaimed concert version of Chicago at City Center’s Encores! series that went on to a full-scale Broadway revival. More often, though, these shows turn out to be unremarkable except for a few sparkles.

Such is the case with the current production of I Married an Angel, staged by a fledgling troupe called Musicals Tonight! Despite the glowing reviews it garnered back in 1938, the show -- by the legendary team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart -- won’t be headed back to Broadway any time soon. But the score, featuring the remarkable "Spring Is Here" and several lesser-known songs that are just as well-crafted, can make you feel as if you have stumbled upon something wonderful.

The plot is truly ridiculous -- a Hungarian count vows he’ll never marry anyone except an angel, who obligingly appears. And don’t expect the score to have anything to do with the story. The show debuted in the ‘30s, when the songs weren’t expected to advance the plot. In the second act, when the angel’s insistence on telling the truth has nearly ruined the count’s family business, a secondary character steps forward and sings about New York. How did the song fit into a show set in Hungary? It didn’t.

Rodgers, in his autobiography, admitted they added it because it was just a great tune. Rodgers was right. The song in question, "At The Roxy Music Hall," is a genuine showstopper. It is a homage to a legendary spot where "the usher puts his heart in what he ushes" and "the seats caress your carcass with their plushes." Rodgers and Hart were best known for their ballads, so to hear such a full-fledged comedy number is a reminder of what a versatile team they were. Although the machine-gun lyrics leave them breathless, Ritta Rehn makes this tune the highlight of the production.

However, Rehn is less adept with another rarity, called "How To Win Friends And Influence People." This comedy number about the best was to hook a man needs a brassier sound than Rehn is able to produce. Kathy Fitzgerald, as the count’s forward-thinking sister, has brassiness to spare in her ode to wanton promiscuity, "A Twinkle In Your Eye." She also provides an effectively sardonic counter point to the count’s romantic "Did You Ever Get Stung?"

As the count, Broadway star Brad Little doesn’t really have the charisma to pull off the role. His rendition of "Spring Is Here" is vocally fine, but it lacks much in the way of emotion. But another Broadway veteran, Nanne Puritz, is charming from beginning to end as the angel who is mystified by the behavior of mere mortals. With her wide eyes and masses of blond curls lending her more than a passing resemblance to Sarah Jessica Parker, Puritz proves quite adept at comedy. Her only song, "Angel Without Wings," sung with a heavenly choir (literally), is as funny as it is touching.

None of these songs, except for "Spring Is Here" and "A Twinkle In Your Eye," ended up in the ill-fated 1942 film version starring Jeanette Mac Donald and Nelson Eddy. The only way to hear them is to get your hands on AEI’s reissue of the 1952 recording by Gordon MacRae and Lucille Norman -- or head to the Musicals Tonight! version of this surprisingly delightful show.

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