Song & dance & unabashed silliness

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Wednesday May 3, 2017
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<i>No, No, Nanette,</i><br>now at the Eureka Theatre, was a Broadway hit all over again in 1971, 46 years<br>after it originally opened on Broadway.
No, No, Nanette,
now at the Eureka Theatre, was a Broadway hit all over again in 1971, 46 years
after it originally opened on Broadway.

It was a bad idea gone wrong. Or at least it seemed that way up until the revival of No, No, Nanette opened on Broadway on Jan. 19, 1971. For a musical designed to ride a wave of innocent nostalgia, the road into New York was mired in lawsuits, firings, acrimony, tantrums, tears, and a script that seemed to defy completion. Yet what audiences saw on that winter night 46 years ago was a smooth-running production that critics and audiences warmly embraced for 861 performances " 500 more performances than the original 1925 production.

The year after the revival opened, Donald Dunn wrote the fascinating, horrifying The Making of No, No, Nanette, an entire book detailing the behind-the-scenes tragi-comedy that early audiences may have heard bits and pieces of but were happy to ignore, especially when the long-retired Ruby Keeler again donned her tap shoes to stop the show.

42nd Street Moon can't rely on that bit of built-in elation, but its current production of No, No, Nanette at the Eureka Theatre is still a slick-and-sassy audience-pleaser. Director Cindy Goldfield knows how to let the unabashed silliness of the material shine through while not apologizing for that silliness, providing audiences with something to hold onto, and even embrace, as hoary jokes and situations are trotted out amid clever new fillips.

There's little need to review the plot, originally written by Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel and streamlined by Burt Shevelove, with its array of subplots involving tennis-anyone flappers, husbands who aren't cheating on wives but must cover up incriminating circumstances, and a young couple who we know are destined for happily-ever-after but must cross over a few bumps along the way.

The highlights are, and probably always have been, the production numbers, when the company can bust loose in Nicole Helfer's floor-rattling choreography. One of the show's signature songs, "I Want to Be Happy," begins as a simple duet between Jimmy, a wealthy Bible publisher, and his ward, the innocent but party-ready Nanette, before a quartet of ukulele-strumming collegians starts an encore that then breaks into a full-throttle production number led by the publisher's dowdy wife who suddenly reveals her skills as a tap dancer. That was a dance added for Ruby Keeler, and it's still irresistible with Lee Ann Payne hammering at the floorboards.

There is a passel more of colorful performances, starting with Michael Patrick Gaffney as the comically addled Bible publisher who's a pushover for shady ladies with sob stories (the delightfully hard-edged Andrea St. Clair, Danielle Cheiken, and Samantha Pistoresi). Mark Farrell has a pugilistic bravado as the publisher's song-and-dance lawyer while Abby Haug, as his high-living wife, nearly burns down the theater with her delivery of the torch song "Where-Has-My-Hubby-Gone Blues." As a wisecracking maid and Nanette's chaperone on a wickedly clandestine trip to Atlantic City, Maureen McVerry milks the character for all its comic worth. Samantha Rose and Andrew Mondello are fine as Nanette and her stuffed-shirt beau despite their small singing voices, which do perk up a bit when they get to "Tea for Two."

Musical director and pianist Dave Dobrusky has an additional three musicians providing the steady accompaniment through Vincent Youmans, Irving Caesar, and Otto Harbach's jingle-filled score. And I'll treat you to a strawberry phosphate if you aren't humming one of the tunes on your way out of the theater.

 

No, No, Nanette will run through May 14 at the Eureka Theatre. Tickets are $53-$75. Call (415) 255-8205 or go to 42ndstmoon.org.