Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Fiorello!
The Berkshire Theatre Group
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's review of Buyer & Cellar and Fred's review of The Taming


The Cast
Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware
Berkshire Theatre Group's production of Fiorello! continuing at the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge, Massachusetts through July 23 is brisk and breezy. It features quite youthful performers guided by veteran director Bob Moss. The Broadway original (1959) was both a Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner. Then and now, the very famous team of lyricist Sheldon Harnick and composer Jerry Bock (who worked together on both Fiddler on the Roof and She Loves Me) provide tunes which remain happily stuck in one's mind. Jerome Weidman and George Abbott furnish the book. This is a piece out of the first third of the twentieth century. The rise of Fiorello LaGuardia from Greenwich Village lawyer to mayor of New York City is probably an education for many of the young cast.

Shortly into the first act, LaGuardia (Austin Lombardi) takes the side of women who are shirtwaist strikers. During the initial scene an ensemble brings "On the Side of the Angels." Michael Sullivan as Neil and Matt McLean as Morris are both sweet singers. Soon enough Ben (Rylan Morsbach) and others present the classic "Politics and Poker"—a bunch of political cronies with pleasing harmonies! Thea (Rebecca Brudner) has led the striking women and is arrested. Meanwhile, Fiorello's assistant Marie (Katie Birenboim) is clearly taken with him. She and her good friend Dora (Chelsea Groen) have conversations. Soon enough, in an effort to vanquish Tammany Hall, Fiorello becomes a candidate for Congress.

Before World War I has begun, he is elected, something of a surprise. Ben and his buddies express their feelings with "The Bum Won." Dora follows that with the plaintive "I Love a Cop" and that would be Floyd (Dan Cassin). LaGuardia enlists. When the war concludes, he returns and it is Thea whom he will wed. Marie is left alone.

Early during the second act, Thea discovers she is ill—"When Did I Fall in Love?" Her husband runs for mayor but LaGuardia is vanquished by James J. Walker. Mitzi Travers (Amy Welch) is spirited with "Gentleman Jimmy." One of the evening's finest numbers occurs late, "Little Tin Box," a song about Tammany Hall men who claim they've been very much on the up about saving money ...

Thea passes on and soon thereafter Marie declares that she will marry "The Very Next Man." Fiorello, in 1933, makes another and successful run to become mayor and marries Marie.

The vocalists perform to the music of (unseen) piano and violin. The cozy Unicorn has been imaginatively converted into a space which effectively houses this show. Set designer Carl Sprague has created miniatures of many New York buildings and they are shifted about the stage. Actors make use of aisles for entrances. Michael Callahan, choreographer, adds fluent, nicely timed and executed movement and dance. Director Moss helps it all to coalesce.

Many of the performers have recently graduated from college and virtually all demonstrate impressive musical training. Katie Birenboim as Marie, Rebecca Brudner as Thea, and Chelsea Groen as Dora are on pitch vocally and persuasive with their characters. Rylan Morsbach's Ben is distinctively strong.

Austin Lombardi has the difficult task of portraying Fiorello, the "Little Flower," the man who boldly sings "The Name's LaGuardia," spelling it out during each of the acts. Lombardi, definitely capable and always on his mark, seems young. The character is in his early thirties as this show begins and edges past fifty as it concludes. Visually, that is a stretch for Lombardi, who gives it his very best and finds Fiorello's giving self.

The excellent David Alan Stern, an expert with dialect, assists actors with New York actors and several approach perfection. David Murin's costuming is an asset. The very positive news is that Fiorello! is still fun, charming and, these days, quite relevant. With a bit of seasoning, it will become even better as the run evolves. It was and is, in this country, a time of politics, complete with some party hacks and selective others who retain scruples.

Fiorello! continues at the Unicorn Theatre on the grounds of the Berkshire Theatre Group in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, through July 23rd, 2016. For tickets, call (413) 997-4444 or visit www.berkshiretheatregroup.org.


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