Let’s put it this way: A sainted classic it ain’t. In fact, it’s hard to conceive how dreadful Hollywood musical spoof “A Saint She Ain’t” has made its way across the pond from England courtesy of not one but two summer theaters that should know better: the Berkshire Theater Festival and the Westport Country Playhouse. Their audiences are the losers. Dick Vosburgh and Denis King’s unfortunate concoction does just one thing well: It makes “Dames at Sea” look and sound like an imperishable masterpiece.
In the case of composer King, it’s a matter of hurtling from the sublime to the ridiculous — he wrote the music for Peter Nichols’ wonderful “Privates on Parade.” And Vosburgh, who supplied book and lyrics, has certainly done better in the past, notably as a contributor to “A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine.” But he does seem to be stuck in Hollywood-spoofing mode, a field that has definitely been plowed to the point of aridity. Does the world really need yet another musical about three sailors on shore leave in World War II Hollywood?
The gimmick this time is that the main characters are — wait for it — W.C. Fields (P.J. Benjamin), Jimmy Durante (Joel Blum) and Mae West (Allison Briner). And, of course, the show opens with, yes, the Andrews Sisters (an unsuccessful imitation).
Vosburgh’s book and lyrics are loaded to groaning point with puns, malapropisms and double entendres. A few examples: “Time, like Alan Ladd, is short”; “hum a ditty” for humidity; West’s song “The Banana for My Pie,” the title of which is just the start of its subtleties. King’s score, rather then being sharply witty pastiche, is a series of vague approximations of its original inspirations with no personality of their own.
The two-piano production is so tacky that any self-respecting community theater group would be ashamed of it. The Technicolor sets are messy and the costumes are awful, particularly the fishtail numbers for poor “bargain-basement Bathsheba” Briner (no self-respecting drag queen, most of whom do a better Mae West than Briner, would be caught dead in them). There is one amusing costume moment when Christina Marie Norrup as Rita Hayworth (she’s Durante’s daughter Anna here) does a quick trick change from street dress to ball gown without missing a dance beat, with romantic lead Jason Gillman’s Danny approximating Gene Kelly.
The show is more a string of “Sugar Babies” vaudeville/burlesque routines than a book musical, though its plot does revolve around sailor boy Danny mistakenly believing his beloved Anna has married drunken W.C. Fields (“I would have become a lawyer, but I could never pass the bar”). So it’s up to the cast to do what they can in their impersonations as, in many cases, they stand center stage delivering solo or duo comic routines.
The entire cast has been seen to better effect elsewhere, but against all odds, Benjamin and Blum have their moments, however fleeting. Lovette George is energetic as man-chasing Trudy. Tap-dancing Gillman and Norrup are OK in a generic way. And Roland Rusinek and Jay Russell as Gillman’s sailor buddies work efficiently, particularly in their comedy routine inspired by “Who’s on first?” in which Russell tries to teach Rusinek how to order a meal by the menu’s alphabetical designations (this routine was written by Dick and Matthew Vosburgh). Eric Hill’s direction is no better than Vosburgh and King’s stale material.
The funniest thing about “A Saint She Ain’t” is its claim to be based on Moliere’s “The Imaginary Cuckold.”