Saturday, October 3, 2015

theatrical review: Fiorello!

I used to rely on my mother to keep track of and inform me of things like the fact that South Bay Musical Theatre is running Fiorello!, a bio-mus [if "bio-pic", then "bio-mus"] of La Guardia and one of my favorite musical shows. But she's gone now, so I had to discover it for myself. Anyway, they are running it, through next weekend at the Saratoga Civic Theater, and B. and I went on Friday. So there's still time to go.

What you get from this company, which I've been to before, though not recently, is a solid production by skilled local enthusiasts: not professional, but definitely competent. The singing was generally better than the acting; the acting managed to get the point across. Tim Reynolds as Fiorello was strong and peppy, vital for a role which generates the show's energy and does so mostly through dialogue: he doesn't get to sing very much. (An odd omission for a title character: doesn't the Music Man sing? Don't Mame and Annie and my fair lady?) The strongest singing came from some of the women: Jen Wheatonfox as Dora gave a perky "I Love a Cop", and Glenna Murillo as Marie belted out an intensely vivid "The Very Next Man". Jeffrey Henson as Ben Marino, the political operative, looked like Fred Thompson, and Kayvon Kordestani as Mitzi the showgirl sounded like Carol Channing.

The sound balance was excellent. The orchestra was in the back, behind the low-slung sets. Even when the body mikes went out, which happened once, the vocalists did not have any trouble being heard. The only catch was that the choruses (very strong throughout, even more than necessary: shouldn't the striking women seem a little anemic before Fiorello arrives and perks them up?) couldn't always hear to set their pitch properly.

As for the show itself, it's the heart-warming and generally optimistic tale of how Fiorello uses populism and sheer vigor to get himself elected, first to Congress and then, eventually, as Mayor of NYC, but is somewhat more hampered in his romantic life. It was effective enough as drama to win the Pulitzer Prize (but then, so did Of Thee I Sing). It's full of terrific songs. Here's a BBC Proms performance of the greatest show-stopper, a second-act number in which Ben and his political cronies make fun of the corruption hearings that would bring down Fiorello's political rival, Jimmy Walker.

Why this stupendously catchy song isn't better-known escapes me. And remember, it was written by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, the same guys who went on to do She Loves Me and, er, um, Fiddler on the Roof.

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