City Center Encores! – Irma La Douce

I attended the matinee performance of City Center Encores!’ performance of Irma La Douce on May 10. I’ve been a fan of this series for many years, and I find that most of the productions are a pleasure to attend, but I was not particularly impressed by Imra La Douce. I don’t put this down to the production itself. They constructed a terrific set — more elaborate than usual for this series — and all the technical things were in order. The cast was good, although I thought the leads — Rob McClure and Jennifer Bowles — lacked the pure star power to put over this rather flimsy show. And there I think the direction could have helped them some more, because I thought this attempt at farce fell a bit flat.

Irma La Douce was originally a French musical by Alexander Breffort and Marguerite Monnot. It was appropriated first for the English stage and then brought over to Broadway, where it had the misfortune to open at a time when the Great White Way was presenting an overwhelming number of great musicals, so it got a bit lost in the shuffle. But I think the major problem with this show is that the French sensibility just does not translate well into an American Broadway musical. The translation falls flat, the music is a bit laid-back for Broadway, and the idea of a virtually all-male cast revolving around just one woman results in vocal monotony as well.

This production was directed by John Doyle, music led by Rob Berman (with a small ensemble rather than the usual full orchestra, true to the original production however, with no violins, violas or cellos, relying heavily on an accordian and percussion with double bass and piano and a handful of winds).

The real bright spot in the production, for me, was the ensemble! Four young men of extraordinary dancing talent – Joseph Medeiros, Joseph Simeone, Manuel Stark, and Caleb Teicher. Manuel Stark has become a particular favorite. I’d enjoyed him as a member of the ensemble in the late lamented TV series “Smash,” and now have enjoyed his work at Encores! in The Most Happy Fella, Lille Me, It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman, and Applause. I hope to see him in something else again soon…. but meanwhile will pull out my DVDs of Smash to get another glimpse.

This was the last Encores! production of the season. Overall it was a good run this year, with The Most Happy Fella the definite highlight. I’m eagerly anticipating the announcement of next year’s shows!

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