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Do Re Mi

Theatre Review by Rob Lester - April 20, 2024

Ian Lowe and Rebecca Spigelman
Photo by Russ Rowland
There's a place for a glib, undemanding, unpretentious old-school musical comedy that seeks to entertain and just wants to make someone happy. "Make Someone Happy" was the big song that came out of Do Re Mi (music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green) in 1960, and early in that decade you might have found the 45 rpm cover recordings of it by singers Doris Day and Perry Como in the jukebox of your local hangout.

At a time when Broadway has so many of what we call jukebox musicals, here's a peppy property that could have been described with that term before it was coined as such, because its plot was about those record-playing machines you dropped coins into. Not that we actually see any of them as props in the lively, likable J2 Spotlight Musical Theater Company production (beyond a projected picture of part of a jukebox above the AMT Theater's proscenium where the location of each changing scene is named).

The book by Garson Kanin (who also directed the original) was based on his own novella, involving people getting involved in the music business, so a few items in the score are diegetic songs, performed in a nightclub setting, allowing also for some spiffy dancing choreographed by Andrew Winans.

The accompaniment sparkles and impresses, even though it's a sole musician: music director/pianist Miles Plant, sight unseen by us, somewhere behind the set. Robert W. Schneider, the company's artistic director and co-founder (with Jim Jimirro) directs with obvious fondness for the genre and characters, and a stylish sense of fun.

The smallish stage is set up attractively and cleanly with three openings for entrances and exits, with hanging gold strips, each framed by rows of light bulbs (set design: Matthew Imhoff). Tables and chairs are brought on and off for scenes, but to save time or make space for dancing, pieces of furniture (and in one case, people) distractingly appear or disappear at odd times.

Ian Lowe plays Hubie, a hapless guy who thinks he could be happy if only he can find the right scheme and money to get it going. The actor certainly seems to be borrowing from the collection of schtick of the broadly comic actor who originated the role, Phil Silvers: an agog persona, slow-mo turns to stare at others with his mouth open while awaiting approval or forgiveness, bumbling or sashaying movements, fast-talking his way through excuses. On their tenth anniversary, Hubie's patience-tested, testy wife Kay (the vibrant-voiced, resourceful Rebecca Spigelman) begs him to be practical and "Take a Job."

Much of the production's expert comedy comes from the trio of unsavory colleagues, with polished line readings, economy of movement, and laughable facial reactions by Eric Michael Gillett, Richard Rowan, and John Leone.

Talented singer Caitlin Belcik portrays the talented singer who is finally found: a waitress named Tilda, overheard humming at work. A star is born. But trouble and/or true love may be brewing when an established figure in the music biz enters the picture and their instant mutual attraction sets off "Fireworks." Although his solo singing wasn't always secure or strong enough in sections of some songs on opening night, Tyler Okunski is charismatic and disarming as this man, John Henry Wheeler. (A not-so-impressed Hubie wonders why he has to have three names).

The lighthearted show generally stays comfortably in its middle lane, between the extremes of overt cartoonishness and realism. But there are times it veers into those other territories and, fortunately, it's usually worth the detour. Some don't land ideally. Caleb Funk, listed as "Character Man," shows up as numerous odd fellows, some more effective than others, but often scoring big laughs with little moments. And then there's the climactic rueful turnabout for Hubie. The switch in tone to self-pitying, self-analyzing material that Styne, Comden and Green gave him near the end ("All of My Life") seems to be cut from such a different cloth, and wanting us to suddenly take him seriously and truly care is a big ask. But kudos to Mr. Lowe and director Schneider for going for it, making it work as well as it does. Mallory Nolting and Kaylee Verble round out the cast, playing multiple roles.

With two more Tuesday matinees just added for the run, J2 Spotlight also widens its spotlight on Styne, Comden, and Green by presenting a batch of their other songs in a cabaret program on April 23, at the same West 45th Street venue. There are Post-show talks at most performances.

Do Re Mi
Through April 28, 2024
The J2 Spotlight Musical Theater Company
AMT Theater, 354 West 45 Street
Tickets online and current performance schedule: