For the inaugural presentation of the restored Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island, the appropriate nod goes to the classic tuner about beloved former New York mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia. The 1959 Pulitzer Prize-winner reopens the long-dormant cultural center, which first bowed in 1892 and is right behind Carnegie Hall as Gotham’s second-oldest concert hall.
A rousing overture, balanced with familiar tunes, is a bracing reminder that this show is an honorable survivor of musical theater’s golden age. One need only sample composer Jerry Bock’s jaunty “A Little Tin Box” and the infectiously waltzing warmth of “‘Til Tomorrow” to savor the pleasures of the past.
The biographical book, by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott, is briskly informative, and it’s generously supported by a colorful period thrust. Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics continue to appeal with a salty satirical bite, especially “Politics and Poker”; and the romantic query “When Did I Fall in Love?” is perfectly lovely.
Tony Lo Bianco returns to the role of the Little Flower. He played the major once before, in a 1986 one-man turn “Hizzoner: The Life of Fiorello LaGuardia.” Lo Bianco invests Fiorello with a feisty charm and appealing gusto. He never succumbs to the temptation of caricature, even when reading the funny papers, as LaGuardia famously did on his Sunday morning broadcasts during a newspaper strike. The celebrated Fiorello warmth is there, as is the crusty plight of a determined and impulsive politico on the campaign trail.
Colleen Fitzpatrick plays his longtime secretary as so unfailingly loyal that, when her heart bursts with her willingness to marry “The Very Next Man,” you want to take her in your arms and comfort her. As LaGuardia’s first wife, Danielle Grabianowski reveals a feathery winsomeness that makes her sudden demise all the more tragic.
Squeaky chorines and smarmy gangsters colorfully define the Roaring ’20s and pert Ryan Kelly leads the toe-tapping showgirls in a snappy period-flavored bow to “Gentleman Jimmy,” the flamboyant mayor eventually defeated by LaGuardia.
Blythe Grude doesn’t harness all the comic potential of Dora, whose affection for a policeman prompts the appealing confessional “I Love a Cop.”
Director Dan Siretta, who appeared in the original Broadway production as well as the 1962 revival at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse, has provided a nice propulsive thrust.
Christina Giannini’s period costumes capture the era handsomely. The show is set against Gotham landmarks: a veritable scrapbook of tenements and towers, sidewalks and skylines. A filmed montage of WWI aerial footage serves as a soaring interlude. It’s surprising to be reminded that the pudgy mayor was once a dashing fighter pilot.
Biggest Snug Harbor snag emanates from the nearby tugboats. At perf seen, their radio signals sabotaged body mikes, causing intrusive cracks and snaps much too frequently. Once that problem is solved, the restored venue will be a most welcome addition to New York’s cultural landscape.
“Fiorello!” is ripe for a Broadway revival. Encores hit the campaign trail a decade ago with a pocket-size version staged by Walter Bobbie and featuring a dream cast that included Faith Prince, Donna McKechnie, Liz Callaway, Philip Bosco, Gregg Edelman, Adam Arkin and Jerry Zaks in the title role. Tony Danza did the honors in a 1999 Reprise! version in L.A.