This new City Center series, offering top-drawer Broadway talent in dressed-up concert versions of some favorite musicals, kicks off with Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s sophomore effort, “Fiorello!” (1959) for four performances. In coming weeks, the first season will be fleshed out with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Allegro” and the Kurt Weill-Ira Gershwin “Lady in the Dark.” Barring full-fledged revivals, these short runs will please a lot of hardcore musical comedy fans.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was on hand to launch the festivities, calling “Fiorello!””my favorite musical about my favorite mayor.” He was topped by former mayor Ed Koch in a Scene Two walk-on, trying to convince independent leader Ben Marino (Philip Bosco, having a great time in the role originated by Howard DaSilva) to give him a shot at a Congressional seat.
It is, of course, Fiorello LaGuardia who wins that seat, and in a role that won Tom Bosley a Tony, Jerry Zaks has more charm than charisma, which is just fine. Zaks, whose directing has won him four Tony Awards, hasn’t been onstage since 1980 (remember “Tintypes” anyone?).
Still, he puts over the Little Flower’s ethnic appeal wonderfully, whether slipping into chatty Italian or yielding to the beckoning strains of a klezmer band. For even more charm, there are Faith Prince as his long-suffering aide-de-camp Marie, waiting 14 years to get her man, and Liz Callaway as her friend, Dora.
Adam Arkin and Greg Edelman fill out the political staff, with comic additions from Marilyn Cooper as a constituent determined to get her money’s worth, and James Judy as Dora’s cop boyfriend. Donna McKechnie struts her stuff as hoofer Mitzi Travers and, as Fiorello’s initial love interest, Thea, rising City Opera star Elizabeth Futral adds coloratura heft to “When Did I Fall In Love?”
Walter Bobbie (like Arkin and Prince, an alum of Zaks’ smash “Guys and Dolls” revival) manages the traffic in front of a large onstage orchestra that, under Rob Fisher’s direction, does justice to Irwin Kostal’s full-blooded orchestrations. The ensemble singing, in such signature numbers as “Politics and Poker,””The Name’s LaGuardia” and “Little Tin Box,” is delicious.
On opening night, some of it sounded a bit under-rehearsed, less polished than the much-missed efforts of the smaller-scale New Amsterdam Theater Company at Town Hall in the late ’80s. And John Weidman’s adaptation of the book his father Jerome wrote with George Abbott connects the narrative dots, but only barely.
No matter. Few Broadway fans would pass up an opportunity to hear such a marvelous score in such reliable hands. The series only promises to get better and better.