“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” at City Center Encores!

I attended the Saturday matinee performance of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", the 1949 Broadway musical (Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Leo Robin, Book by Anita Loos and Joseph Fields, adapted from Ms. Loos's novel of the same name), semi-staged by New York City Center Encores! as the last show of their 2011-12 season.  It was a brilliant closing for the season, because this is an absolutely lovely show and all the elements came together for a truly memorable theatrical experience.

Megan Hilty assumed the role of Lorelei Lee, made famous in the film version of this show by Marilyn Monroe but originally created on stage by Carol Channing.  I can't praise Hilty highly enough to do justice to what she achieved in this role.  The singing, dancing and acting were all stunningly good.  Her co-star, Rachel York, was also superb as the girlfriend, Dorothy, who accompanies Ms. Lee on her nautical excursion from New York to France.  Indeed, I couldn't identify any weak link in this cast.  Even the generally non-singing part of the U.S. Olympic team members, headed by Luke Hawkins and Eric Bourne, made a great impression through their dancing, calisthenics, and dashing Olympian builds.

Dancing was at the heart of everything in this show, and choreographer Randy Skinner did a great job of keeping the stage alive.  But then, all the technical aspects of this production were superb – sets (John Lee Beatty), costumes (David C. Woolard), lighting (Peter Kaczorowski), sound (Scott Leher), dialogue scripting for the semi-staged production (David Ives), stage directing (John Rando), musical direction (Rob Berman), and the entire crew keeping things moving in a fast-paced production.

Indeed, this was such a splendid production, so well cast and performed, that I could hope somebody who attended would want to transfer it to a Broadway run.  The main barrier, I suspect, would be putting together and supporting the very large cast necessary.  There were fourteen actors whose parts were substantial enough to be featured, and another twenty or more in supporting roles.  For a Broadway production one would need to go to fuller sets, and – unfortunately, given the economics of today's Broadway theater – would probably have to cut down the size of the orchestra.  It probably wouldn't be commercial.  But seeing a production like this reinforces what's missing on Broadway today. 

One might compare the current production "Nice Job If You Can Get It," where a faux-Gershwin musical has been constructed by cherry-picking numbers for a variety of shows and writing a modestly entertaining book to tie them together, with a cast featuring a big-name but rather obvious weak link, the big name's inclusion undoubtedly being a key to getting the financing to put it on.  This Encores! production of Gentlemen featured many solid Broadway troopers who have performed in plenty of big shows, but none of whom is yet in that "big name" category that would spur investors for a Broadway run.  More's the pity, because they were all superb.

And, with the season over, one can do a quick post-mortem on the renovation of City Center.  From my perspective, it is a big success.  The seating is much more comfortable, the facilities are now modern, clean and functional, and the great acoustics have been preserved.  Everything is easier on the eye, clean and freshened up with excellent colors and fabrics.  Compliments are certainly in order.

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