Hold on to your spats! Cinéma vérité—Hollywood style—has found a happy ending in the first Gershwin musical to set foot on the Stratford Festival’s playbill.
Director/choreographer Michael Lichtefeld has turned the Avon Theatre into an old-time movie house, simultaneously bringing My One and Only to the stage and screen. Following a hilarious “please turn off your cellphones” shtick by the comely Ladies of the Aquacade, their backdrop of red, white and blue panels bursts into celluloid life as the show’s cast credits tease the eye while Berthold Carrière and the orchestra pounce on the heady score: Let the music begin!
Forget the plot (cross-Atlantic swimmer falls for trans-Atlantic pilot), this is a two-hour dance-a-thon with bad jokes and a couple of ballads thrown in to allow the company to catch its breath.
With catchy titles like “Blah, Blah, Blah,” “ ‘S Wonderful,” and show stopper/ender “Kickin’ the Clouds Away,” the physical joy and exuberance of bodies flying everywhere is reinforced by silly lyrics that only add to the escape from the world that awaits all once the curtain falls.
For those who’ve savoured dance flicks from the past, this show is comparable in energy but frequently can’t find its legs, much less its feet in the unforgiving tap numbers that predominate. The result in the ensembles is a cacophony of a rhythmical pellets bouncing off the stage instead of razor-sharp oneness with the syncopated rhythms. In the duets (e.g., “High Hat”) the misfires are less obvious unless the ghosts of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly pop back into memory.
Vocally, the opposite is true. Swimmer Edythe Herbert (Cynthia Dale whose voice has matured beautifully and now has delectable tinges of Julie Andrews at her peak) and Captain Billy Buck Chandler (Laird Macintosh) fit like a glove on all fronts and are a constant pleasure. Mr. Magix (Mark Cassius) dispenses his fashion advice with aplomb and the Rev. J.D. Montgomery (Marcus Nance) generates some hearty “amens” every time his baritone shifts into gear.
Hats off to the scene-linking, song-and-dance trio, The New Rhythm Boys. They come closest to nailing their steps and might just be tappin’ onto the next plane of excellence as this run accumulates air miles. JWR