Sunday, September 30, 2007

Enter Laughing

This Musicals in Mufti version of the Broadway flop So Long 174th Street (retitled here for its straight play source material) turned out to be one of the happiest surprises I've had at the theatre in months. The simplicity of this on-book, one-piano "staged concert" production showed the material to advantage and was a pleasure from start to finish: I'm led to wonder if the show tanked on Broadway because of some deficiencies with that production, because there's nothing out of working order here with the book or the score. The Depression-era story follows an endearing daydreamer whose fantasies of stardom lead him to audition for a small part in a play; once he gets the job his problem is amusingly obvious: he hasn't a lick of talent. On his way to a hilariously inept performance on opening night, he gets goo-goo eyed over the glamour of acting (trying the patience of his parents, who want him to become a druggist) and over the glamourous leading lady (trying the patience of his girlfriend, who loves him whether he's a somebody or not). The role requires someone with an extraordinary amount of charisma, and luckily Josh Grisetti has it to spare. There isn't a weak link anywhere in the ensemble: Emily Shoolin is engaging and nails a nifty number called "Men", Kaitlin Hopkins is delicious as the stage actress, George S. Irving turns a fantasy number in the second act into the show's highlight, Robb Sapp makes some fun choices as our hero's confidante and best friend. In addition to all that, L.A. Law's Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker slip right into the goings-on with class and ease. I'm not a frequent Musicals In Mufti-goer, but this is easily the most entertaining one I've seen yet.

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