The York Theatre Company, NYC
Reviewed by John Kenrick
A note to all stage producers in search of an exciting project! I have one word for you: Mirette. It's a magical, intimate musical with brains, heart and courage -- qualities that used to mean something in the theatre. In my humble opinion, they still do.
Mirette made its long-overdue New York debut courtesy of the York Theatre Company's delightful Musicals in Mufti series. While the York does not permit critics to review these concert productions, they will have to forgive me this hopeless breach of etiquette -- because this show demands to be written about!
Composer Harvey Schmidt and lyricist Tom Jones are best known for their off-Broadway hit The Fantasticks, as well as such Broadway gems as 110 in the Shade and I Do, I Do. In the early 1990s, they teamed with librettist Elizabeth Diggs to turn Emily Arnold McCully's acclaimed children's book Mirette On the High Wire into a musical. There were a few regional showcases, but the show failed to go further. Schmidt's recent retirement makes Mirette the last Schmidt & Jones score -- and what a glorious thing it is! The melodies are rich and disarming, the lyrics fresh and inventive. From the brilliant opening number, every song is a thorough delight, and each is a model of vibrant dramatic songwriting. Ms. Diggs matches this artistry with a libretto that enchants from page one, offering a treacle-free coming of age story that will delight audiences of all ages. Condensed into a tight one act format, Mirette is solid, quality entertainment.
Mirette Gateau is a young girl who helps her mother run a boarding house for performers in 1880s Paris. A mysterious man moves into a basement room, and his morning sessions practicing on a courtyard tightrope intrigue Mirette, who gradually persuades this moody fellow to give her lessons. He turns out to be Bellini, the once-great high wire walker who let fear prematurely end his stellar career. Teacher and student soon redefine each other's worlds, learning that "sometimes we just need someone" to help us see who we really are and what we can really be.
With only five days of rehearsal, director Drew Scott Harris and gifted musical director Matt Castle worked wonders, putting together a dramatically clear and musically polished presentation. Bob Cucciolli is superb as the brooding Bellini, creating genuine chemistry with co-star Maggie Watts, a girl from Atlanta who gives a miraculous, unaffected performance in the title role. The ever-reliable Ed Dixon delights as an impresario and Sue Cella is effective as Mirette's loving but practical mother. The other habitués of the boarding house are handled deftly by a fine ensemble that includes Joy Franz, Davis Duffield, David Garry, Patti Murin, Kelly Sullivan and Anthony Santelmo, Jr.
As we pass the midpoint of the decade, Broadway is something of a musical wasteland. Jukebox musicals, bloated adaptations of novels and gimmicky British-born revivals dominate the scene, leaving many to wonder what if any future the musical theatre has. Well, the answer is hiding slightly to the East, at the York Theatre Company. The only professional theatre company that devotes itself fulltime to developing new musicals and rediscovering under-appreciated shows from the past, the York has sent Off-Broadway the recent hit Musical of Musicals, The Musical and gave Broadway the hilarious Souvenir with Judy Kaye. Refusing to rest on these laurels, the York has now uncovered Mirette. This is the kind of musical gem that keeps my hope for the future alive.
Sadly, the Mufti concert productions only run for a weekend each, so no more than a few hundred people will get to see this delicious staging of Mirette. If you are not among the lucky few, keep your eyes open -- and pray that a producer with enough brains, heart and courage to give this show a commercial staging comes along quickly.