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The IT Girl

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

What is IT? What is that indefinable quality about a person that draws your eye to them and makes them stand out in the crowd? Whatever IT is, you can tell if a person has it. A musical is very similar. The IT Girl, the York Theatre Company's new musical now playing at the Theatre at St. Peter's Church, doesn't have all of its IT, but it certainly has got more than its fair share.

The book by Michael Small and BT McNicholl (who also directed and wrote lyrics), and the music by Paul McKibbins all make the most vital contributions to the evening. Their one major misstep is using a framing device of a nickelodeon for the show, which adds an unnecessary layer to the action. Robin L. McGee's costumes, Mark Nayden's sets, Jeff Nellis's lights, and Elaine J. McCarthy's projections - mostly in shades of black, white, and gray - contribute to the 20s feel without needing the extra conceit.

Regardless, with the exception of some creative and funny, but occasionally overdone, nickelodeon sequences (staged by Steve Smith), this is mostly forgotten after the show's first number, "Black and White World." The story that is revealed through the nickelodeon - based on the 1927 film It starring Clara Bow - is the show's primary focus.

Jonathan Waltham (Jonathan Dokuchitz), the handsome son of a wealthy department store magnate, is convinced by his friend, Monty Montgomery (Stephen DeRosa, in a delightfully foppish comic turn) to advertise their doilies using the concept of IT, that combination of sex and personality that can "make a Jesuit give up on being celibate." But where to find the woman who has IT? The answer, it turns out, is Betty Lou Spencer (Jean Louisa Kelly), who works in Waltham's store.

The story from there takes mostly foreseeable turns, but runs pretty well on charm for most of the evening. The songs, with a strong 20s beat, are charming. The performers are almost always charming. The songs they sing and the choreography (by Robert Bianca) they perform are steeped in charm. The second act takes a while to get going, but there plenty of laughs to be found.

The problem with The IT Girl is that charm alone is not always enough to make a musical succeed. Though the show's charm never exactly grows thin, nor does the show provide many moments that are particularly riotous, moving, or thrilling. It has no lows, but few real highs.

This is due, in part, to the leading lady. Kelly sings, acts, and dances well, and has a firm grasp on the show's heart and comedy. But her performance never really shows the star quality, that intangible "something" that separates musical theatre stars from everyone else. Betty Lou Spencer, we are told from almost the first scene on, has all of IT. Kelly has most of IT, but alas, not quite enough.

Though Jessica Boevers, in a smaller role as Jonathan's jilted lover, doesn't seem to have IT for most of the evening, at one point she seems to have more of IT than anyone else onstage. When she turns to the audience and explains her unfortunate history of trying to steer men away from one woman and into her own arms, she devours "A Perfect Plan" with such delight and builds the drama and comedy to its hilarious conclusion so well, it becomes the highlight of the show.

"When you've got IT," we are told in a lyric, "you've got it all." McNicholl, McKibbins, and Small have created a musical that manages to make the concept of IT believable, entertaining, warm, charming, and funny. It seems to have everything except that little bit of IT to truly set it apart. If they can find that last whit of IT, The IT Girl's IT will no doubt help make it a hit.

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The York Theatre Company
The IT Girl
Book by Michael Small & BT McNicholl
Music by Paul McKibbins
Lyrics & Direction by BT McNicholl
The Theatre at St. Peter's Church
619 Lexington Avenue, between 53 and 54, in the Citicorp Center
Through May 27
Tickets online: Tele-charge