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Subways Are For Sleeping

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - February 26, 2018

Eric William Morris, Alyse Alan Louis, Gina Milo,
David Josefsberg, and Cast
Photo by Ben Strothmann

Third time's the charm as the York Theatre Company closes out its three-show Musicals in Mufti tribute to composer Jule Styne with an effervescent production of Subways Are For Sleeping. It is a sparkling treasure trove from start to finish, so much so that one wonders why it's never had a major remounting. Not even a stint at City Center's Encores! which teased us by including the Subways overture as part of its recent showcase of excerpts from shows it has never gotten around to.

Advice to Encores! artistic director Jack Viertel: Get yourself over to the York and see for yourself. One thing for sure, the folks responsible for mounting the Mufti production have no need to seek out favorable blurbs from patrons who share the same names as New York's top-tier theater critics the way that publicity-hound producer David Merrick did for an infamous advertising campaign back in 1962, shortly after the show opened on Broadway to mixed reviews.

Subways Are For Sleeping is a marvelous example of the kind of musical that flourished during Broadway's so-called Golden Age that peaked in the 1960s. For fans of the era, it is pure delight: lighter than air, quirky, sweetly romantic, and filled with spritely Styne tunes and witty lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who also wrote the show's book. And it could hardly have a better cast, despite the fact that the performers had less than a week to prepare (the norm for the York's stripped down, scripts-in-hand Mufti productions.)

Alyse Alan Louis and her real-life husband Eric William Morris star as the couple at the center of the show. Ms. Louis is Angie, a reporter working on a story about a hidden segment of New York's population who live from hand to mouth, taking short-term jobs, scrounging for their next meal, and scrambling to find a place to sleep. Mr. Morris plays Tom, a former successful businessman who ran afoul of the law, lost everything, and now coordinates the day-to-day schedules for his homeless colleagues. He and his friends run from anything that will place them in the limelight of public scrutiny, so Angie pretends to be one of them and goes to Tom for help and advice. As is typical of musicals of this sort, there is also a second, comic couple on the scene. That would be Tom's friend Charlie (David Josefsberg) and Martha (Gina Milo). Charlie and Martha "meet cute" when he goes to her hotel room to serve as a go-between on behalf of another acquaintance, a mission he quickly abandons. True to the genre, love's sting, conflicts, breakups, and a final turn-around resolution carry everyone to the show's inevitable happy ending.

Of course we understand that homelessness is a serious issue, as it assuredly was when Subways Are For Sleeping first saw the light of day. But this is pure fantasy and fluff, and if taken in that light, it's like being a birthday party guest at Dylan's Candy Bar. You can go back on the diet tomorrow. For now, enjoy the caloric feast provided by the ten-member cast who come together as a well-oiled ensemble to perform the delectable score. Among the stand-out numbers, the list includes a rollicking "Be A Santa;" Charlie's "I Just Can't Wait (‘til I see you with clothes on)", sung to Martha, whose attire through most of the evening is a bath towel; and Martha's own autobiographical showstopper, "I Was A Shoo-In." Topping it all off is the grand and glorious "Comes Once In A Lifetime," a song that perfectly expresses the show's theme of living for today. Or as Angie puts it, "Tomorrow? Never heard of it."

Truly, I could go on listing the songs one by one. There's not a clunker in the entire score, nicely accompanied here by David Hancock Turner on piano and George Farmer on bass. You need but sit back and relax, as the entire company, directed with panache by Stuart Ross, fills the room with exuberant joy. There could not be a better ending to the York's Jule Style series, which also included Hallelujah, Baby!, a show that is unfortunately anchored by writer Arthur Laurents' lackluster attempt at satire; and Bar Mitzvah Boy, in which the music feels constrained and forcibly shoehorned into a tightly written pre-existing play. With Subways Are For Sleeping, though, the tethers have been loosed, and it all soars like a free-flying kite.

Subways Are For Sleeping
Through March 4
York Theatre Company at York Theatre at St. Peter's Church, 619 Lexington Avenue (enter on 54th Street)
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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