A correction was made to this review on Aug. 11, 2005.
The revival of Sandy Wilson’s 1954 valentine to 1920’s musicals gets a loving kiss of its own from a novice helmer who nonetheless knows a few things about the material: Julie Andrews, who made her Broadway bow starring in the original a half-century ago. She bases the new-old show on her 2003 staging at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater, run by her daughter, Emma Walton. In fact, the production is a kind of family affair, with Andrews’ ex-husband, Tony Walton, creating the sublime designs that perfectly capture the airy period sense of the show.
The East Haddam production is a delightful confection full of silliness, exuberance and style. But it remains to be seen if the show translates to larger stages once it leaves its storybook summer setting and hits the road on Goodspeed’s first national tour this fall.
Andrews’ name and, to a lesser extent, the Goodspeed brand will give the production initial cred and cachet but the starless show will have to sing and dance for itself in order to pull in auds.
Fortunately it has an agreeable cast (including one breakout perf by a dancing marvel, Rick Faugno), a tuneful score of pleasant pastiche numbers and a wide variety of inexhaustible steps by choreographer John DeLuca. F. Wade Russo leads the lively eight-piece pit band that keeps the music buoyant.
At a brisk two hours, tuner certainly doesn’t wear out its welcome. Andrews understands the characters are as thin as the two-dimensional backdrops, whimsically designed in period pastels by Walton. She stages the easily anticipated action with dispatch, simplicity and affection, keeping the generic girl-meets-boy-etc. plot playful without overdoing the corn or condescending with camp. Her smart strategy is to keep the tone light and bright (and that goes double for the sunny lighting by Richard Pilbrow and Dawn Chiang).
A few perfs push too hard, and should be reined in before they get broader, but for the most part the cast strike the right notes.
Jessica Grove stars as Polly (Andrews’ original role), the poor little rich girl longing for love in a finishing school on the Riviera. With a strong, clean soprano, Grove is pretty in pink and gives a perfectly enunciated, well-crafted perf. A bit more freshness and vulnerability might make her even more human, essential when she is surrounded by a world of cardboard cutouts and pampered posers.
Sean Palmer as the millionaire’s son who seeks a simpler life (he’s trying work as a bellboy when he meets Polly) is disarming and his singing, too, is lovely.
Drew Eshelman and Darcy Pulliam are a New Yorker cartoon come to life as Tony’s parents. Paul Carlin plays it amusingly straight as Polly’s father, while Nancy Hess is well poised and posed as the very French headmistress of the finishing school. Andrea Chamberlain is suitably sassy as Polly’s madcap pal Maisie.
But it is Faugno who is the standout as her boyfriend, Bobby. Few of the supporting characters have much to do other than smile, sing and dance, but in Faugno’s case the results are extraordinary, especially with his effortless footwork, which has snap, grace and dazzle.
Wilson’s music has a sweet, comfortable feel from another era. Some of the songs have become standards on their own: “Won’t You Charleston With Me,” “I Could Be Happy With You” and “It’s Never Too Late to Fall in Love.” Other tunes are what songs were in those musical hall entertainments: merely delightful and disposable.
For the Goodspeed production, a song from the London original production dropped for Broadway, “Nicer in Nice,” is reinserted and neither adds nor detracts from things. It’s just one more number to amuse in this bonbon of a production, deliciously served.