Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and myself go way back, since I first saw the legendary Carol Channing perform the role at the Ziegfeld Theatre in 1949. I fell in love with the score and the actress, and went back in 1950 to see the show two more times. The album became my most favorite listening habit and I memorized the lyrics. Carol Channing did not have star billing when the show first opened; however, that soon changed as she became the toast of the town. Howard Morris and Charles "Honi" Coles were in the cast and Yvonne Adair played Dorothy. The musical played for 740 performances.
Sometime in the late '60s I saw my friend Betty Hutton tackle the role at a supper theatre north of Chicago. Gentlemen disappeared until the Goodspeed Opera House resurrected it in 1994 with KT Sullivan playing Lorelei. The National Actors Theatre brought it into New York's Lyceum Theatre in 1995, and a Variety critic reported that "the musical can appear persuasive outside the theater district, but withers in the Broadway spotlight." The musical with a mediocre book cried for a talent of Channing's stature, and Ms. Sullivan did not supply that talent.
Messrs Nederland also tried for a sequel in 1974 when they presented Lorelei (the pre-Broadway run played here in San Francisco). Jule Styne did the music and Comden and Green the lyrics. It opened at the Palace on January 27, 1974 with Ms. Channing repeating her role. Lorelei was a moderate success and ran only 320 performances.
Fox brought out the film version as a starring vehicle for Marilyn Monroe, who played the role close to Ms. Channing. The film studio threw out most of the songs and added new ones. The film was in that garish color of 20th Century Fox and was an instant success. Today, most people equate the musical with the film.
42nd Street Moon, with first time director Caroline Altman, is presenting a very campy version of the 1920s era musical. The young actors really throw themselves into the antics of these characters and camp up a storm. Amy Louise Cole (a regular at 42nd Street) plays Lorelie entirely different from the other actresses I have seen. Generally, this character is completely naïve, but Cole plays her almost sassy and street smart. In the first act, Cole never fully puts her stamp on the character. She doesn't exaggerate nor is she naïve enough; she appears just a little too greedy. Cole is very good in the second act, especially when she sings "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend."
Cynthia Myers (42nd St Moon productions of By Jupiter, Too Many Girls) is excellent as Dorothy Shaw. She has the cutting dialogue and sings and dances with gutsy energy. Robert Rossman (42nd St's Oh Captain, TheatreWorks Ragtime and AMT's Damn Yankees) is very good as Sir Francis and exhibits a nice English accent. He shows his dancing talents in "It's Delightful Down in Chile" and a great Charleston in "Keeping Cool with Coolidge."
Jason Winfield (Lt. Cable in Willows' South Pacific and Joe Hardy in CCMT'S Damn Yankees) takes over several wild roles, especially the fractured-French Louis Lemonteur. I have no idea where he got that accent but it is hilarious. Louis' father Robert Lemonteur is played by Kenneth Baggott (Willows' Solid Gold Cadillac), sporting a strange almost vaudeville-type French accent.
Brian Yates Sarber (Memphis at TheatreWorks) and Ernie Tovar (42nd Finian's Rainbow) do a nice little dance act in "Mamie Is Mimi." The rest of the cast really goes nicely over the top in their characterizations. Director Caroline Altman wisely lets the actors ham it up and that is fine for this whiz-bang musical. Costumes by Barbara Burge embellish the '20s period and once again David Dobrusky is excellent on the piano.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes runs through April 18th at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson San Francisco. For tickets call 415-978-2787 and for additional information visit www.42ndStMoon.org.
Their next production is the American Premiere of Jerome Kern's 1922 musical Cabaret Girl.