It's hard to watch Musical Theatre Guild's "concert-staged reading" of Little Me without getting the feeling that Jason Graae has been auditioning for the leading male role(s) for the past decade or so. Playing seven different men in the life of our heroine, Graae leaps easily from stock comic role to stock comic role. Each characterwhether earnest teen, French lounge singer, dictatorial movie director, or grouchy old manis perfectly delineated; each gets laughs in his own way. There's no wonder that Graae does this so well, thoughhe's been playing these characters one (or, as in Gigi, a handful) at a time for Reprise for years. In that respect, Little Me is tailor-made for Graae, a chance to work his comic talents in the spotlight rather than in scene-stealing bit parts.
And it certainly doesn't hurt that he's got Neil Simon's hilarious book and Carolyn Leigh's equally funny lyrics to help him along. As the show follows Belle Poitrine in her quest for "wealth, culture, and social position" (to win the man of her dreams), the plot skips through all sorts of standard plot developments, somehow simultaneously mocking them and finding a tiny bit of genuine heart within. The laughs flyand the fact that we're watching a staged reading, in which scripts are held and lines occasionally forgotten, doesn't detract. In fact, the opportunities for breaking the fourth wall seem to add to the playfulness of the endeavor.
Opposite Graae is Jennifer Malenke as Young Belle (the story is told in flashback by Older Belle, Eileen Barnett, who grabs on to the worldly "broad" part of character and doesn't let go). Malenke is good as the well-meaning innocent who lives on Drifters' Row. She conveys Belle's spunk and undying optimism (despite the unfortunate tendency of fatal accidents to follow in her wake). Malenke has a sweet voice and does well with getting in touch with the emotion in "The Other Side of the Tracks."
Put it all together (and sprinkle in some good comic duo work from Joe Hart and Roy Leake, Jr. as vaudeville producers) and the whole thing is just charming good fun. At least for the first act. The problem with the productionand it may well simply be the nature of the attempt to pull off Little Me with 25 hours of rehearsalis that it all gets terribly thin after the intermission. With an intermission-inclusive running time that pushes three-and-a-half hours, the show really starts to wear out its welcome. Consider the dance numbers (choreographed by director Todd Nielsen), or, rather, the lack thereof. The first one, the "Rich Kid Rag," has some pretty simplistic moves; the next one, "Deep Down Inside," just has a lot of perky swaying about. By the time of the second act's big production number, Nielsen has pretty much run out of ways to have his company not dance. This is understandable given the limitations of the concert-staged reading format, but understanding it alone can't render a static or poorly-executed dance number entertaining. Graae really tries his best here, liberally going off script to keep the audience engaged, and he largely succeeds. But by the time Belle finally gets her man, you get the feeling that this Little Me would have been more pleasing had it been a bit littler.
Little Me played one night only at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. For future Musical Theatre Guild productions, see www.musicaltheatreguild.com.
Musical Theatre Guild in association with Glendale Arts proudly presents Little Me. Music by Cy Coleman; Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh; Book by Neil Simon. Based on "Little Me" by Patrick Dennis. Director/Choreographer Todd Nielsen; Musical Director Alby Potts; Production Coordinator Jeffrey Christopher Bond. Associate Coordinator Larry Raben; Wardrobe Supervisor A. Jeffrey Schoenberg, AJS Costumes; Hair, Wig and Makeup Designer Judi Lewin; Production Stage Manager Art Brickman; Assistant Stage Managers Danielle DeMasters and Tim Miller.