As has been bemoaned frequently within these pages, the employment of electronic sound reinforcement in both the pit and on the stage (individual body mics) serves no useful purpose except to distort the sound (which surely is not the well-meaning intent of all concerned). In this instance, when the chorus is at full bore and Paul Sportelli along with his intrepid and most talented musicians are soaring to the heights, it would take surtitles for the audience to fully appreciate the lyrics. Happily (meant with deep irony) there was only one wardrobe “malfunction” (cloth inadvertently covering the singer’s microphone to—literally—put a damper on the vocal line).
With such talented instrumentalists and cast (save and except for Allan Louis’ Sandor vocal contributions, which could peel paint), coupled with the better-than-average acoustics in the Festival Theatre, only one question remains: Why bother to reinforce?
If it is to keep up with Broadway (where the outputs are equally maddening: who would plan to have distortion and out-of-balance results, when a decent conductor could be the soundboard, as is the case in the world’s finest opera houses, most of which are many, many times larger).
And, with this production’s music and lyrics (Robert Wright, George Forrest with an assist from Maury Weston) being largely unmemorable, the combination of slight score/over amplified music might well have spelled a total disaster. Thanks goodness for the dancing!
Choreographer Parker Esse has done a superlative job of surveying the entire troupe and using their strengths to everyone’s advantage. Best in show—hands down and index finger shakingly up were the Two Jimmys (Matt Nethersole—making the splits look easy—and Kiera Sangster). Whether “Maybe my Baby” and most certainly Act II’s “The Grand Charleston,” the energy, flare and irrepressible enthusiasm of this duo merits a show on its own.
Short on showstoppers, “We’ll Take a Glass Together” is worth the price of admission alone.
As to the leads, James Daly has the matinée good looks and boyish charm to convince as the penniless Baron von Gaigern, but cannot find his inner gangster or consistently hit the top notes of his songs. With a shoddy script (especially when compared with the Best Picture version of 1932 (cross-reference below) it’s hard to tell just who the leading lady might be.
Playing the fading ballerina, Elizaveta Grushinskaya, Deborah Hay nails her feature song, “Bonjour Amour” (which could have been heard two cities away, even without the mic…) and mine the spectrum of emotions with typical ease. Vanessa Sears is wonderfully radiant playing Hollywood wannabe Flaemmchen, and is especially effective in “Girl in the Mirror.”
Michael Therriault turns in a Tevye-worthy performance as dying accountant, Otto Kringelein, while Steven Sutcliffe is entirely convincing playing Colonel-Doctor. Jay Turvey’s take on the lecher of the piece, Hermann Preysing, is musically accomplished—notably “The Crooked Path”—yet not quite greasy enough to make the audience want to wash as soon as they are home.
So come for the dancing, endure the sound and—also like the film—leave the theatre wondering just why the story merely stopped instead of coming to a conclusion. JWR