Let's Face It
nytheatre.com review by David Fuller
May 10, 2006
Mel Miller has been producing Musicals Tonight! since 1998. It is a commendable undertaking, presenting book-in-hand stagings of forgotten or neglected musicals, and certainly the well of material is much larger than is tapped annually by City Center’s Encores series. Plus, Miller’s presentations are a reasonably priced alternative/addition to Encores. Musicals Tonight! has grown into an annual staging of five musicals, plus ancillary events. Its audience continues to grow and its list of contributors is impressive. At best, such presentations help us rediscover past masterpieces worthy of full-scale production. At least, the stagings give us a window into theatre history and insights into our past.
Let’s Face It probably falls into the latter category. This Cole Porter (music & lyrics) and Dorothy and Herbert Fields (book) musical was a hit after opening just weeks before Pearl Harbor in the late fall of 1941. It starred Danny Kaye, Eve Arden, and Vivian Vance and featured Nanette Fabray. In 1943 it became a movie musical with Eve Arden reprising her Broadway role and also starring Betty Hutton and Bob Hope, who played the Danny Kaye role. It was adapted for television in 1954 for the Colgate Comedy Hour with Gene Nelson, Vivian Blaine and Bert Lahr. The source for Let's Face It was an old Norma Mitchell/Russell G. Medcraft stage play, The Cradle Snatchers.
The story is simple: three wealthy middle-aged women suspect their husbands of philandering while on vacation in the Hamptons. The men say they are going fishing but Maggie (the Eve Arden role) and her friends think otherwise. To get back at their husbands and to hopefully rekindle their marriages by awaking the green-eyed monster, the ladies hire three soldiers to be their escorts for the weekend.
One of the soldiers, Jerry (the Danny Kaye role), is perpetually engaged to a girl named Minnie. He takes the escort assignment for the cash needed to finally make his wedding happen. Minnie learns of the “job” and gets two of her friends (girlfriends of the other two soldiers) to make a play for the older men, who, by the way, really were just going fishing. Six couples are thus embroiled in a 1940s farce heavy on the double entendres, veiled sex jokes, and topical references. That is really the problem with Let’s Face It today. Although one can appreciate the humor, it really isn’t as funny today as it must have been some 60 years ago.
Still, the Musicals Tonight! company version makes for an enjoyable diversion. The cast of 16, including a four-person ensemble, does commendable work. In the role of Jerry, Blake Whyte does a fine job. Among other standouts, Amy Barker is just right as one of the jealous wives, Cornelia, and Jessica Scholl is very good as one of the girlfriends, Jean. The direction and choreography by Thomas Mills is clever, making full use of the space and stretching the constraints imposed by book-in-hand movements. This is not Cole Porter’s best score, but the prolific writer does come through with a couple of numbers, "You Irritate Me So" and "Let’s Not Talk About Love."
All in all, it is an amusing evening and an interesting glimpse into the popular escapism of the period. Those in the audience who actually lived through those times clearly enjoyed the evening immensely. So, kudos to Musicals Tonight! for bringing us this musical, which, if not a gem, at least shines enough to be worth viewing as a staged reading.