The history of the American musical theater is littered with the corpses of turkeys from which much-loved songs survived. Not even the greatest of composers and lyricists were or are immune to occasional Broadway failures, including Sheldon Harnick, who put together “Good Company — Songs That Made It From Shows That Didn’t.” Because so many of the songs are such incomparable standards , led by Kern and Hammerstein’s “All the Things You Are,” Harnick’s revue of hits from flops can’t help but be pleasant summer entertainment.
Still, the show has yet to find that elusive essential ingredient that would set it above the multitude of song-catalog revues currently flooding the market. Even the very familiarity of the songs might be an obstacle: As talented as the cast of five is, it’s up against formidable memories of songs recorded by the world’s top stylists. When Lewis Cleale, Kathy Fitzgerald and Michael McGrath perform “Triplets,” from the 1937 Broadway flop “Between the Devil,” they inevitably come out second-best to Fred Astaire, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan gamboling through it in the film “The Bandwagon.”
There are compensations, not least being the use, more often than not, of all the original song lyrics, verses and choruses. It’s a pity, though, that “All the Things You Are,” written for two couples to sing as an exquisitely elaborate quartet and considered by a number of composers of popular music as “the greatest song ever written,” is performed as a solo, even if Patti Cohenour does sing it prettily.
The attractive cast sings the title song, specially written by Harnick and music director/arranger/
pianist Fred Wells, then proceeds to numbers from almost every decade of the 20th century. Harnick’s book offers basic information about the songs and their creators, from Kern, Berlin, Rodgers, Arlen and the Gershwins to Sondheim, Herman, Lloyd Webber and Kander and Ebb. But the patter linking the songs is too familiar, and lacks theatricality.
As so often happens with song-catalogue revues, “Good Company” is more of a club act than a theater piece, a fact that Michael Montel’s self-effacing direction and Karen Azenberg’s embryonic choreography emphasize. Ditto the piano-and-bass approach to accompaniment. Happily, most of Wells’ arrangements honor the songs they serve, though “More Than You Know” and “Time on My Hands” fight each other when he merges them. The most theatrically effective number is the lewd, lascivious “The Picture of Happiness,” George Abbott’s favorite number from Harnick and Bock’s 1960 flop “Tenderloin,” hilariously performed by McGrath , Sheryl McCallum, Fitzgerald and Cohenour.
Gary English’s minimalist aqua set is basically a box showcasing the cast and blowups of Al Hirschfeld caricatures of composers and lyricists (the set’s sliding panels were sometimes noisy on opening night). Laura Crow’s ice-cream costumes are suitably summery, and Phil Monat’s lighting and James Wildman’s sound are eye- and ear-embracing.