Now I can say I've seen Redhead. For those of us whose theatergoing didn't start until the 1970s, being able to check the rarely performed 1959 Tony winner off the list is nothing to sneeze at. Unfortunately, that's about all that can be said for Musical Theatre Guild's concert version (performed one night in Glendale, and to be performed once more in Long Beach). Given the limited rehearsal associated with this "concert reading" production (25 hours, according to the program notes), Musical Theatre Guild has turned in a competent production; it just isn't a particularly noteworthy one.
Jane Lanier plays Essie Whimple, who at first appears as the dowdy yet spirited artist at a London wax museum run by her two spinster aunts. Whimple is prone to clairvoyance, and she's had a vision of the perfect man. When he appears at the unveiling of her latest exhibit, it's love before first sight as far as Essie is concerned. But the man of Essie's dreams, an American strongman performing in a local music hall, takes little interest in our spunky heroine. Essie hatches a plan to catch Tom's eye, and the rest of him: there's a killer on the loose, Essie will pretend the killer is after her and she'll go to Tom for protection.
The plan works. Essie shows up at the music hall where, in order to keep her safe, it is decided that she'll join the cast of the show. Essie is taken off to be made up as a chorus girl and, all of a sudden, she appears as a gorgeous redhead who is the woman of Tom's dreams.
The rest is a ridiculous romp featuring music hall numbers, falling-in-love songs, falling-out-of-love songs, pub songs, a ragtime number, a tango, a dream sequence, a vision and a "Keystone cops"-style chase scene. It's playful and silly without anything remotely resembling a message or depth.
If you think about it, you can certainly see where the role of Essie was a Tony-winner for Gwen Verdon. Redhead is all about our plucky heroine singing, dancing and scheming her way out of trouble and into the arms of her man. Lanier gives it a game try, spiritedly singing her way through the show with a clear voice and good-natured enthusiasm reminiscent of a Disney heroine. (Her surprised "Oh!" sounds just like Belle.) And, of course, whenever she gets the chance to do a dance step, Lanier makes it very clear to everyone that she's a dancer.
But ultimately, Lanier is let down by the nature of the way Musical Theatre Guild attacks musicals. Although on a "concert reading" contract, Musical Theatre Guild attempts to do a full-scale, fully-staged musical - only with everyone on book, an extremely short rehearsal process, and a tiny band. The desire to accomplish everything in 25 hours of rehearsal results in nothing being done in a particularly extraordinary way. For example, Steven Nielsen's choreography is cute enough, it is simple enough for the ensemble to follow it in the big dance numbers, and it even allows the more acrobatic members of the company a moment in the spotlight. But nothing particularly stunning is given to Lanier, even when the script is begging for it.
All things considered, Musical Theatre Guild gives us a chance to see what the fuss was about with this award-winning show; it just doesn't give us a particularly fuss-worthy production.
Redhead will perform again on November 29, 2004 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach. For information, see www.musical.org.
Musical Theatre Guild presents Redhead. Book by David Shaw, Dorothy Fields, Herbert Fields and Sidney Sheldon; Lyrics by Dorothy Fields; Music by Albert Hague. Director Michele Spears; Music Direction Ed Martel; Choreography Steven Nielsen. MTG Producers Marsha Kramer & Randy Kravis. Wardrobe Designer Shon LeBlanc; Production Manager Vernon Willet; Wig Designer Judi Lewin; Staqge Manager Art Brickman; Asst. Stage Manager Meg Friedman; Production Assistant Brittan Maassen.