Megan Hilty from Smash on stage in a Marilyn Monroe role. Now why didn’t I think of that?
Hilty is the toast of the New York music theatre set as City Center Encores! strikes gold, or should that read ‘diamonds,’ leaving the current crop of Tony nominees in the dust with the best musical reviews of the year.
Encores! has put together a splashy concert staging with generous lashings of costumes and stylishly simple representative sets. Hilty, as gold-digger Lorelei Lee, is particularly well served by David C. Woolard’s costumes, with no less than five glittering ensembles showing off her curvy, busty figure to the max.
Director John Rando keeps the action flowing at a fast, frothy clip. Achieving a lovely consistent style amongst the large set of principals, Rando has developed the full colour of the quirky set of characters and has landed the maximal amount of humour.
The 1949 musical harks backs to an early style, with multiple encores of hit songs and separate singing and dancing ensembles. The presentation allows a kind of double nostalgia, both for early golden age musicals and for the fond recollection of the 1920s in Anita Loos and Joseph Fields’ simple but endearingly witty book.
Jules Styne’s score sounds superb as played by the 28 piece Encores! Orchestra under the pacy, confident baton of Rob Berman. Hugh Martin’s original vocal arrangements are a pleasure to hear, and Leo Robin’s lyrics have lost none of their luster over the past six or so decades.
The wafer thin confection of a plot sees Lorelei’s current beau, button heir Gus Edmond Jr, pull out off their transatlantic crossing to Paris, leaving her susceptible to, heaven forbid, the inventor of the zipper. Accompanied by her dear friend Dorothy Shaw, some 1924 US Olympic athletes, a nonstop tap dancer, a wealthy woman trying to sell her tiara and another who is desperate for a champagne cocktail or three, Lorelei conquers the cruise and Paris before returning to New York for her long delayed wedding.
Hilty is an absolute knockout as Lorelei. Golden, gorgeous and hilarious, she makes the role completely her own with a plummy twang of an accent and a vocabulary of body language that belies the short rehearsal period. Best of all, her singing is sensational, particularly the effortless belt she pulls out to end songs on a high. The applause when she entered after her second encore of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” gave true meaning to the term show-stopper.
Rachel York is a terrific Dorothy, playing up the slightly less well defined role to the hilt. York’s two duets with dreamy Aaron Lazar, adorkable in thick-rimmed glasses here, are a romantic treat.
Clarke Thorell is a handsome partner for Hilty, and nails the early favourite “Bye, Bye Baby.”
Above all other creative elements, the standout attraction is the sensational choreography by Randy Skinner. Tight, witty and, best of all, dazzling, the extensive dance routines support story and character in the best possible way, leaving the audience open mouthed and then screaming for more.
An early highlight is the five buff boys of the Olympic team showing off the track and field skills, along with their rippling torsos, in “I Love What I’m Doing.” Wonderful full ensemble numbers include the colourful “It’s Delightful Down in Chile,” the Paris scene “In the Champs de Mars” and the energetic “Keeping Cool with Coolidge.” One further sensational standout is the Paris nightclub tap number, featuring Phillip Attmore and Jared Grimes, along with Megan Sikora as Gloria Stark.
Having waited well over a decade for the opportunity to see a City Center Encores! production, what luck to have seen one of their most enthusiastically received shows. Lucky I booked twice!
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes plays at New York’s City Center until 13 May 2012. The score has been recorded for future release.
Reviewed 8pm Friday 11 May 2012.
Photos: Joan Marcus