Billy Philadelphia’s 1980s cabaret impersonation of Hoagy Carmichael has morphed into a lavish supper club concert act with an irrepressible emcee, a knockout leading lady belter, an adagio dance team-and a title that reflects more aspiration than accomplishment. Neither revue nor musical theater at the moment, Philadelphia’s near-mystic habitation of the Carmichael persona will sell the show until he and his collaborators find their hook, or adjust the sales pitch to capitalize on what they’ve got.
Director-choreographer Walter Painter, with some help from Louis St. Louis, creates as much movement on stage as possible via a large turntable, the dance couple’s pas de deux and the jazz band’s roving horn section. The tactics provide visual enhancement but fail to alter Philadelphia’s basic “…and then I wrote…” tribute.
Philadelphia’s whisky-throated musings draw off a long career as a saloon singer/pianist, and instantly make the Carmichael character as likable as a happy hour bartender.
The easygoing portrayal complements B.J. Crosby’s aggressive ballads and barnstormers as she leads the way through the Carmichael songbook, mostly in chronological fashion.
“Stardust,” for which Crosby gets a superb vocal arrangement, is just the tip of an appealing catalog that includes period novelties (“I’m a Cranky Old Yank”) and half-forgotten hits (“Washboard Blues,” “Rockin’ Chair”) as well as enduring standards (“Georgia On My Mind,” “Skylark”). David Mitchell’s simple set evokes a hotel showroom.
Ellis Tillman’s costumes find the groove somewhere between high society and honky tonk that writers Philadelphia (under his real name William C. Trichon) and Bruce Dettman, and director Painter, seem to be aiming for.