Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's recent review of A Chorus Line
No, No, Nanette started life as a 1925 stage show, but is better known now for its 1971 Broadway revival. The musical follows a young lady (Nanette) who wishes to "raise a little hell" in the roaring twenties style before settling down in marriage (to boyfriend Tom). Thanks to some uncomfortable situations created by her guardian Uncle Jimmy and family friend lawyer Billy, Nanette and Tom, along with many others, are drawn into a series of misunderstandings, lies and madcap antics. This show is akin to the made-up, long-forgotten musical which the recent Broadway tuner The Drowsy Chaperone sends up so deliciously.
The book is credited to Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel. The silly slapstick humor is typical for shows from the 1920s, but many of the jokes land rather flat with modern audiences. Although the broad humor and predictable storylines don't make for the most engaging plot, they do provide a solid enough framework for some wonderful songs and exquisite dances. The songs boast music by Vincent Youmans and lyrics by Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach. The score includes a mix of romantic ballads, want songs, torch songs and charm songs, all quite tuneful and with sufficient wit. The two best numbers, however, are "I Want to Be Happy" and "Tea for Two." Both are melodically irresistible and will be familiar to virtually everyone. Each is heard repeatedly in snippets in various introductory, exit and reprisal pieces, in addition to their primary song placement.
Director Joe Deer is right at home with the material, setting a don't-take-yourself-too-seriously tone almost immediately, and instilling a warm sense of nostalgia and obvious love for the era. Deer's light touch and fluid staging and transitions are just right for the show. No, No, Nanette has a substantial amount of choreography, and Michael Baxter supplies a wide variety of visually pleasing period dances which are the highlight of the show. The tap dancing alone is worth the price of admission. Scot Wooley leads a superb sounding 17-piece orchestra which features two stage level pianists (John Slate and David Hapner) just beyond each side of the proscenium arch.
No, No, Nanette offers a number of sizable roles for the Wright State students. As the title character, Lauren Everett embodies the bubbly yet unsatisfied personality of a young woman yearning to experience life. She also sings with a confidence and clarity befitting a lady leading. Kyle Krichbaum (Jimmy Smith) mines comedic gold as the older, wealthy businessman/uncle who ignites the cannonball of mishaps due to his innocent and kind-hearted yet naïve dealings with a trio of younger women (played by Caroline Chisholm, Megan Vale, and Danielle Besslerall quite funny). Krichbaum also proves himself to be a fine singer. Dakota Mullins provides handsome leading man looks, stellar dancing talents, and fine vocals as lawyer Billy.
Brandon Kinley plays Nanette's boyfriend Tom and he supplies gorgeous vocals on several romantic duets. Grace Liesch (Sue) is impressive in leading the showstopping tap extravaganza for "I Want to Be Happy" and has great stage presence throughout. Meredith Zahn is a bit pitchy in spots as Lucille, Billy's wife, but she also has some of the most challenging vocal material, and is overall a strong performer. Bailey Edmonds lands plenty of laughs as Pauline, the droll maid. The large ensemble does a great job with the many dances and in maintaining fully committed characters in each scene.
The two main settings, the inside of Jimmy and Sue's home and just outside of the Atlantic City cottage that the pair own, are skillfully rendered by Pam Lavarnway. They contain period appropriate art deco touches which are whimsical in tone and in line with the show itself. The costumes by Elizabeth Bourgeois create a beautiful soft color palette, sport wonderful lines for dancing, and are well-suited to the era. Special mention goes to the lovely two-toned shoes for the women in act one. The lighting by Jessica Ann Drayton is likewise very competent and appropriate.
No, No, Nanette is certainly a throwback sort of show: one with a corny story, but with a few well-known songs and supporting some magnificent dances. Wright State University provides a strong staging of this rarely mounted musical, including a talented student cast.
No, No, Nanette continues through November 13, 2016, at Wright State University in Dayton, OH. Visit www.wright.edu or call 937-775-2500 for tickets.