Encores at City Center, NYC - November 2009
Review by John Kenrick
It's hell being an old musical. I mean a really old one, who's authors and original stars are all long gone, with no one left to respect your artistic integrity and tell the unknowing why you once enchanted theatre lovers by the thousands. Instead of being revived in anything like your original shape and form, you get revised and rearranged and snipped -- and a new generation looks at you with genial bemusement, wondering why a previous generation ever bothered cheering for you.
Such is the case with Girl Crazy, which hit Broadway like a hurricane back in 1930, with a score by George and Ira Gershwin and the debuts of two new stars -- Ginger Rogers and Ethel Merman. In this new concert version staged by Encores at City Center, director Jerry Zaks and musical director Rob Fisher cut reams of dialogue, rearranged the order of songs, even turned a few key numbers inside out. For instance, the legendary 16 bar belt note in "I Got Rhythm" that made Merman a sensation was removed from the main rendition of the song and stuck in an encore -- making today's audience wonder why in hell anyone would have bothered demanding an encore eighty years ago.
All this was done in the name of providing a better evening's entertainment. Unfortunately, the Encores team did such a thorough reshuffling of the material that there was no way to judge Girl Crazy on its own merits. As an evening's entertainment, it was no match for Crazy for You. a revised version of the same show that enjoyed international acclaim in the 1990s.
It did not help that this production had a surprisingly uninteresting cast. The romantic leads went to two unknowns -- both charming, and both utterly forgettable. The Merman role went to Anna Gasteyer, who hit her notes and delivered her lines capably, but without providing a single moment of magic or hint of star quality. Broadway vete4ran Marc Kudisch provided a fair bit of fun, but the closest anyone came to stealing this mediocre evening was Wayne Knight, best known as the hated "Newman" on NBC's sitcom Seinfeld. When the best moments belong to a TV comic, a vintage musical is in poor shape indeed!
The Encores series has been running since 1994, and is now one of New York's most admired theatrical institutions. It is inevitable that every now and then, such a series is going to fall short of its potential -- and heaven knows, Encores has given us more than its share of inspired, glorious revivals. Here's hoping this clunky Gil Crazy was just a blip, and that the new years finds the series back in top form.