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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


No, No, Nanette

Also see John's review of The Whipping Man

No, No, Nanette

The Stage Door Theatre opens its 2009-2010 Season with the musical comedy No, No, Nanette, featuring lyrics by Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach, music by Vincent Youmans, and a book by Harbach and Frank Mandel as adapted by Burt Shevelove. From time to time theatres dig up musicals that are old chestnuts best left buried, but the Stage Door Theatre has unearthed a hidden treasure with their production of No, No, Nanette.

It would hardly be possible to speak of No, No, Nanette without mentioning the infamous "Curse of the Bambino". For decades it has been claimed that producer Harry Frazee, who was a former owner of the Boston Red Sox, financed the first production of No, No, Nanette by selling baseball superstar Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. According to a popular superstition, the resulting "Curse of the Bambino", kept the Red Sox from winning the World Series from 1918 until 2004. Whether or not one is a Red Sox fan, what musical would want to be saddled with such an oppressive reputation? The curse has understandably been refuted by some on the grounds that the sale of Babe Ruth actually occurred five years earlier. As discovered by Leigh Montville while doing research for his book The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, the truth is that the musical No, No, Nanette is based on the 1919 Broadway play My Lady Friends, by Emil Nyitray and Frank Mandel, and that play was indeed financed by the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

The credentials of the creative team behind No, No, Nanette is impressive. Prolific composer Vincent Youmans wrote music for some 14 musicals and 10 films. In addition to his work on No, No, Nanette he is known for songs such as "More Than You Know" and "Flying Down To Rio." Prominent lyricist Irving Caesar wrote lyrics for songs such as "Swanee," "Sometimes I'm Happy," and "Crazy Rhythm." Otto Abels Harbach (born Otto Abels Hauerbach) wrote lyrics and/or librettos for 50 musicals, with songs such as "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", "Indian Love Call" and "Cuddle Up a Little Closer. Playwright and producer Frank Mandel collaborated on shows such as The Desert Song and Good News.

No, No, Nannette was first produced on March 11, 1925 at London's Palace Theatre, where it ran for 665 performances. The Broadway production of No, No, Nanette opened on September 16, 1925 and ran for 321 performances. Film versions were made in 1930 and 1940, with both films featuring actress ZaSu Pitts. A loose film adaptation of the show, entitled Tea for Two, was released in 1950 starring Doris Day and Gordon MacRae. The 1971 Broadway revival with a book adaptation by Burt Shevelove opened on January 17 at the 46th Street Theatre, where it ran for 861 performances, and received four Tony Awards and four Drama Desk Awards. The cast included screen legend Ruby Keeler, Helen Gallagher and Bobby Van. City Center's Encores! also presented a new concert production of No, No, Nanette in May of 2008 starring Sandy Duncan, Beth Leavel and Rosie O'Donnell.

Set in the 1920s, No, No, Nanette begins in the New York home of mild-mannered millionaire Jimmy Smith. Jimmy owes his financial success to his Bible publishing business, and his frugal and sensible wife Sue. Their ward is niece Nanette, whom they fiercely guard from the evils of the time. But as sugary sweet as Nanette may be, she has an untapped wild side she wants to explore before giving her hand in marriage to suitor Tom Trainor. Tom works at the law offices of his Uncle Billy, who is Jimmy's best friend. Billy's wife Lucille also happens to be Sue's best friend.

With a frugal wife and money to spare, Jimmy naively decides to become the benefactor to three beautiful but conniving women: Betty from Boston, Winnie from Washington, and Flora from San Francisco. He seeks the assistance of his lawyer friend Billy when the women begin blackmailing him for more money. Billy sends Jimmy to Philadelphia to get him out of the way, and takes Tom with him to meet the three ladies in the Smith's Atlantic City home, Chickadee Cottage, to negotiate an end to the situation. Jimmy hears of Nanette's desire to go to Atlantic City for the weekend to cut loose. Instead of going to Philadelphia, he agrees to take her to Chickadee Cottage, with their maid Pauline acting as Nanette's chaperone. Sue and Lucille, Billy's wife, hearing that both their husbands will be away on business, decide to take a vacation to the cottage as well. Naturally everyone is surprised to meet in Atlantic City. Misunderstandings occur and are resolved before the show ends with a party, where sensible Sue wows Jimmy with a sensational new dress in the final dance number.

The Stage Door Theatre production of No, No, Nanette is completely charming. It is artfully choreography by Chrissi Ardito in a style reminiscent of a Busby Berkeley musical. Well known songs "Tea for Two" and "I Want to Be Happy" are sung and reprised with long tap dance sequences featuring the members of the ensemble in a variety of combinations. These changing combinations, and entrances and exits of the dancers, provide layers and visual texture to the dancing that holds the audience's interest. While the ensemble dancing is uniformly crisp, dancer Shain R. Stroff seems the best at making it all look effortless.

The costuming for this production is surprisingly good. It steers away from the stereotypical fringe and beads of the flapper, and concentrates on the color schemes, drop waists, geometric prints and head pieces of the era. There are some nice details are in the coordination of the ensemble's color scheme, which is an area frequently overlooked. The closing number dress for Sue (played by Kimberley Xavier Martins) is indeed sensational. It looks like it was made just for her as its cut and pattern colors hit her figure in all the right places.

It is difficult to pinpoint a standout performance in this show as the cast is so even—this is a compliment rather than a criticism. Two minor flaws barely mar this show. A sweet-faced Jonathan Bauchman is a bit young for the role of Jimmy, as he looks closer to the age of the actress playing his niece Nanette than the one playing his wife Sue. Not to worry, as he fits the role, and it is one he can continue to grow into with age. The other flaw is in the portrayal of Pauline. In the style of character actresses Marjorie Main or Mary Wicks, Pauline should be colorfully crotchety but likeable. Actress Elissa Solomon is so crabby and heavy-handed with the role of Pauline that she makes her very, very hard to like. Due to the style of the piece and the time period in which it was written, the characters are more presentational and less complex than in modern musicals. Lucille, who is played by Kristen Marie, is the most developed character. Kristen is saucy in "Too Many Rings Around Rosie," playful and sentimental in "You Can Dance With Any Girl" and tearful in "Where-Has-My-Hubby-Gone Blues."

The cast has great on-stage chemistry and an understanding of the acting style required of this genre. If you are fan of the old-fashioned musical, you will find exactly what you are looking for in this production of No, No, Nanette. If perhaps your knowledge of Broadway doesn't go back more than 20 years, and you are not sure if it is your thing, think The Drowsy Chaperone. If you liked that, you may just fall in love with No, No, Nanette.

No, No, Nanette will be appearing at the Stage Door Theatre through September 27, 2009. The theater is located at 8036 W. Sample Rd in Coral Springs, Florida. The Stage Door Theatre is a not-for-profit professional theatre company hiring local and non-local nonunion actors and actresses. Their two stages in Coral Springs are open year round. For tickets and information on their season, you may contact them by phone at 954-344-7765 or online at www.stagedoortheatre.com.

Cast:
Jimmy: Jonathan Bauchman
Reggie: Chris Chianesi
Betty/Penny: Sabrina Cohen
Nanette: Erin Dowling
Flora: Lissen Ellington
Minnie: Eliana Ghen
Winnie/Polly: Kaia Marguerite
Lucille: Kristen Marie
Sue: Kimberley Xavier Martins
Tom Trainor: John Ramsey
Pauline: Elissa Solomon
Bobby: Shain R. Stroff
Billy: Jonathan Van Dyke
Troy: Conor Walton
Trevor: Joey Zangardi
Gertie: Lauren Zapko

Crew:
Director: Dan Kelley
Music Director: Phil Hinton
Choreography: Chrissi Ardito
Set Design: Stage Door Scenic
Lighting Design: Ardean Landhuis
Sound Design: Martin Mets
Costumes: Marilyn Wick & Costume World Theatrical
Stage Manager: Nancy Clay


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere



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