Frank Loesser’s widow, Jo Sullivan Loesser, apparently wasn’t happy with “Perfectly Frank,” the Loesser revue that had a brief run on Broadway in 1980, and wanted a new catalogue revue to showcase her late husband’s songs. “Heart and Soul: The Life and Times of Frank Loesser (In His Own Words)” is the result, though it has a way to go before it truly pays homage to Loesser’s considerable songwriting talents.
In some cases actually belittling the songs it’s supposed to be showcasing, the show does have its moments, such as when Laura Kenyon does a spot-on loud and jivey Betty Hutton impersonation on “Murder He Says,” or when female impersonator James Beaman completely convinces us that he’s Bette Davis (except that he sings “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” better than she did).
But the high points are few and the low points are low, such as when the cast’s three women butcher the title song of “Guys and Dolls,” and “Standing on the Corner” is trashed by being turned into a tap-and-juggle routine for James Darrah. The latter redeems himself with his charming singing of “The Ugly Duckling” from the film “Hans Christian Andersen,” accompanied by a deft spoof of “Swan Lake” and “The Dying Swan” by the three women.
Something very odd is done to “Adelaide’s Lament.” Kenyon opts to sing it straight rather than offer the time-honored nasal delivery of the song, but just when it’s beginning to exert its own fascination, the number is brought to an abrupt end.
The multitude of Loesser songs are cobbled together via a book written by his daughter Susan Loesser, supplying basic information in Loesser’s own written, spoken or attributed words. But the book is never more than once-over-lightly, and sometimes muddles rather than clarifies points. It almost always views Loesser’s life through rose-colored glasses.
Some of the arrangements are fine, some miss the point. A nice sense of humor is brought to a medley of “tropical movie” songs Loesser knew were downright silly, and two couples singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is a nice touch — until one of the men drops his pants. Loesser was a more sophisticated songwriter than that. And while each member of the cast has at least one bright moment, none is able to shine brightly in everything he or she attempts.
The show, which begins with Loesser’s voice speaking and singing the “Can Do” lyrics from “Guys and Dolls” and has a Hirschfeld cartoon of Loesser on its backdrop, is supported by an offstage trio of musicians, accomplished music director Richard DeRosa taking over the onstage piano to accompany the revue’s title song.
Richard Sabellico’s direction and choreography are mostly brisk and buoyant, but the ultimate reaction to “Heart and Soul” is that it doesn’t do justice to Loesser’s creative output.