This revival of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Tip-Toes” isn’t just a textbook example of the tuner of the pre-“Show Boat” era. Tiny, game cast, working on a postage-stamp stage and a shoestring, is an exuberant reminder of the let’s-put-on-a-show spirit characterizing the best musical productions of any era or budget. It’s ragged in places, with some shaky dancing, but all in all “Tip-Toes” is, as they say, the hum-mingbird’s galoshes.
Production makes no case for show’s place in any canon, to say the least. But the prospect of hearing a full, un-familiar Gershwin score that includes a couple of standards (“Sweet and Low-Down” and “That Certain Feeling”), even with just piano and percussion accompaniment, more than justifies the effort.
Musicals of that era were makeshift affairs. Librettists — glorified gagmen, really — would use some current event (here it’s the Florida real estate boom) as a jumping-off point for a flimsy narrative string on which a set of new tunes could be hung.
With this one, you go in whistling the plot. You know Tip-Toes Kaye (Kelly Stables), a vaudevillian pretend-ing to be an heiress, will find her Palm Beach millionaire (Matthew Reis). There will be complications (a spell of heroine’s amnesia, for instance) and a second couple to contend with (a jealous Sandra Purpuro and her dallying husband, Matt Kubicek), but things will end happily.
Getting there is all the fun, of which there’s plenty, starting with Tip-Toes’ conniving uncles, played by Kyle Nudo and Richard Horvitz. Some of the jokes should’ve stayed buried in that warehouse (“Did you ever sleep with a crab?” “I used to, but then she divorced me.”), but the function of the comics is to brighten the intervals between romantic ballads, and that they do, sometimes getting off a nifty line: “My shoes are so thin, I could stand on a dime and tell whether it’s heads or tails.”
Above all, there’s Tip-Toes herself. Five feet tall or thereabouts, Stables is a feisty pepper-pot with a winning personality, angelic singing voice and acting chops to match. She can get up on her tip-toes, too. Staples raises the tone of the entire production, making everyone look better (and leaving aud eager for the meatier musical leads she’ll pull off one day).
On the dance side, some of the cast have barely mastered the box step and side shuffle, but, by golly, they sell those numbers as if this were a Broadway spectacle and their leader were Gower Champion (with whom helmer-choreographer William Mead once worked, and whose influence is felt in the cheerfully goofy comic turns).
Whether his ensemble is dancing or acting, Mead permits no trace of campiness or condescension, and it would take a hard-hearted cynic indeed to resist show’s appeal.
While physical production is wan — show is played against tacky black curtains, with a few rolling set pieces plus banners evidently taken from a used-car lot — Jeremy Pivnick gets a lot of mileage out of a few lighting instruments and gels, and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s costumes are just terrific. Every gown on the women scores, and while less was spent on the men, they do sport an most amazing collection of vintage neckties.