Fiorello! in Concert at
Whatever happened to Fiorello!? Winner of the 1959 Tony Award for Best Musical (it tied with The Sound of Music), winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama (an honor accorded to only six other musicals in history), it has all but disappeared from the repertoire of American musical theatre. Fiorello! tells the story of New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and is one of three musicals about New York City mayors (the others, Jimmy, about Fiorello's predecessor, Jimmy Walker, and Mayor, about Ed Koch, have disappeared as well, but they weren't nearly as successful initially). Perhaps political biography is a turn-off for musical audiences, although it doesn't seem to have stopped Evita. Perhaps the subject of this particular political biography is largely forgotten, other than the airport in Queens which bears his name. Or perhaps Fiorello! didn't survive because of its score. While there are no bad songs in the score, there aren't any particularly great ones, and none of them have enjoyed any measure of success outside of the musical which contains them.
Whatever the reason, there is much to admire in Fiorello! Its book, by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott, is a wonderful amalgam of Weidman's liberal political writing style and Abbott's mastery of the comedic one-liner. The two balance each other out beautifully, and the result is a funny and fast moving libretto which manages to paint a broad picture of the beloved New York mayor in a rather unconventional way: Fiorello, the character, rarely sings. Instead, Fiorello's story is sung by the characters who surround him.
While the score certainly serves the show, it isn't composer Jerry Bock at his best, and he would go on to write far more interesting melodies for She Loves Me and Fiddler on the Roof. Lyricist Sheldon Harnick fares better, contributing intelligent, humorous and exceptionally well-crafted lyrics throughout the score, including such gems as "We are going to rid the country of contempt of courtship/Legally replacing it with davenportship" (from "Marie's Song") and "Must we sew, and sew, solely to survive/So some low so-and-so can thrive?" (from "Unfair").
Fiorello! was the first musical to be presented in concert at Encores, the organization that served as the inspiration for Seattle's Showtunes! It is thus fitting that Showtunes! opened its first season at their new venue, the beautifully-equipped Kirkland Performance Center, with a sparkling concert production of the same show, anchored by four top notch performances.
David Silverman, while bearing no physical resemblance to New York's "little flower," nevertheless brings great fortitude to the titular role of Fiorello. Silverman perfectly captures the essence of the spirited politician with his snappy line delivery and dignified spirit, and his strong voice easily negotiates the limited amount of music that the score allocates the character. (Is there a leading role in a musical with less singing? Well, The King and I qualifies. But The King and I is Anna's story, not the King's. Even Daddy Warbucks has more musical notage than poor Fiorello.)
Seattle's always reliable Angie Louise attacks the role of Dora, the daffy garment worker, with gusto and panache. Displaying perfect comedic timing, Ms. Louise wrings big laughs out of her dialogue, and her smashing rendition of "I Love a Cop" is the highlight of the first act. (I hope that Showtunes! is considering Ms. Louise for the lead in their next production, Flora, The Red Menace — it's a role she was born to play.)
Fiorello's long-suffering secretary (and eventual wife) Marie is brought to life by the talented Vickilee Wohlbach. Ms. Wohlbach is terrific in the deliciously amusing "Marie's Song," and she brings down the house with her strong vocal delivery of Marie's eleven o'clock number, "The Very Next Man."
Rounding out the sterling quartet of principals is the jovial Julian Patrick, making a welcome return to Fiorello! (he performed in the original Broadway company of the show). Mr. Patrick brings sly humor to Fiorello's political guru (and occasional nemesis) Ben Marino, scoring heavily with both "The Bum Won" in the first act and "Little Tin Box" in the second.
Among the supporting cast, Seattle newcomer Ryan Childers is a standout as Dora's corrupt cop, Floyd; Chad Jennings is charming and David-Edward Hughes is amusing as Fiorello's abused assistants, Neil and Morris; and there are good turns from Nick DeSantis, Marcus Wolland and Matt Wolfe in the ensemble.
Director David Bennett keeps things moving at a brisk pace, Kathryn Van Meter contributes cute choreography for "Gentleman Jimmy," and Bruce Monroe is the conductor of both the snazzy eight-piece band and the beautiful choral singing.
Following the performance, Julian Patrick shared humorous anecdotes about his experiences in the original casts of Fiorello!, Juno, Once Upon a Mattress and Bells Are Ringing in a fascinating talk back with David-Edward Hughes.
Fiorello! ran from October 1 - 2 at Kirkland Performance Center. Showtunes! continues its intriguing season with the aforementioned Flora, followed by a welcome revival of the seldom-seen On the 20th Century.
Guest reviewer Morgan LaVere is a frequent contributor to the musicalschwartz.com web-site for Stephen Schwartz, and created the late, lamented, theatreseattle.com web-site.