It is a sad reflection on the impact of this latest “Reprise! Broadway’s Best in Concert” offering that the musical highlight came at the conclusion of intermission, when the members of the excellent onstage orchestra returned to their seats while improvising freely over the blues-tinged comping of music director/pianist Peter Matz. Unfortunately, none of this freewheeling musical joy finds its way into Don Amendolia’s limply staged 1935 Greenwich Village misadventures of the sisters Sherwood, Ruth (Lucie Arnaz) and Eileen (Stephanie Zimbalist).
Despite its credentials as the 1953 Tony Award-winning best musical, the creakiness of the Fields/Chodorov book has to be compensated for by some truly inspired energy and zaniness onstage that can bring to life the musically quirky Leonard Bernstein/Comden & Green songs. Arnaz and Zimbalist offer pleasant personas as the misplaced Ohio lasses, but their musical offerings are decidedly lacking in zest and personality. On the other hand, Cliff Bemis brings a great deal of commitment and his emotionally rich baritone voice to his portrayal of magazine editor Robert Baker, who is smitten with both ladies.
This musical edition of writer Ruth McKenney’s often-produced recollections of her first year in New York with man-magnet kid sister Eileen is full of Bohemian Village types like painter/landlord Appopolous (Tony Abatemarco), hipster nightclub owner Valenti (Daniel Guzman), wisecracking reporter Chick Clark (Andy Umberger), industrious lady of the night Violet (Lynne Marta), out-of-work pro-footballer Wreck (Andrew Rice), his diminutive girlfriend Helen (Jennie Fahn) and an ensemble of drunks, cops, etc. They enthusiastically invite all to join them with the show opener, “On Christopher Street.” The enthusiasm is decidedly more diminished from that point on.
Arnaz is properly sarcastic and droll as the long-suffering wannabe writer who is constantly in awe of her sister’s ability to attract men. For her part, Zimbalist is quite believable as the guileless, good-hearted Eileen, who accepts the attentions of the opposite sex as she does the air she breathes. The appeal of these ladies disappears when the music starts. In their duet on the forlornly homesick, “Ohio,” they are more concerned with just phrasing together than in projecting the meaning of the song. And they seem to be accomplishing a chore rather than giving a performance as they work their way through the tricky notes and rhythms of the show-closing “Wrong Note Rag.”
Arnaz’s understated “100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man” fails to reach its comedic potential, but, bolstered by the ensemble, she accomplishes an almost-rousing “Swing.” Light-voiced Zimbalist doesn’t offer much spark in her only real solo, “Little Bit in Love.” Aided by the enthusiastic singing and dancing of a quartet of Irish cops, however, she works her way quite nicely through “My Darlin’ Eileen.”
The real plus of the show is Bemis. His emotion-driven “What a Waste,” tender “Quiet Girl” and romantic “It’s Love” (in duet with Arnaz) are high moments in an otherwise moment-lacking production.
Adding some sense of the supposedly colorful Greenwich Village atmosphere are Abatemarco as the ever-opportunistic Appopolous and Guzman’s jive-spouting Valenti.