nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
March 5, 2009
A theatergoer in search of a merry farce cannot go wrong with a 1922 musical featuring libretto and lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse and music by Jerome Kern. Cabaret Girl is the latest presentation from Musicals Tonight!, a talented company under the dedicated production of Mel Miller, whose entertaining pre-show historical tidbits set the right tone for these nostalgic pieces.
In this lighthearted but lengthy tale (2 hours, 45 minutes including intermission), our hero Jim is land rich but money poor. He can only come into his inheritance if his aunt, the Marchioness, approves of the woman he loves. But Jim does not want to marry a nice country girl. He wants to marry Marilynn (Nanne Puritz), whose idea of a good time is a late-night drive followed by dancing. Not only is Marilynn of a wilder spirit than the country girls surrounding Jim, but she is an unemployed yet driven showgirl, and this was back in the day before our entertainers fraternized around society, so Jim has prepared himself to lose his inheritance if the Marchioness, does not approve.
Marilynn has just auditioned for a cabaret staged by music publishing firm Gripps and Gravinns. To help her out, Gripps invites the neighboring elite to Gravinns's estate, in the hopes of impressing Jim's family. When the neighbors turn out to be away (including the oh-so-Wodehouse-ianly named Mrs Bubbleton Upwater), the cabaret team is called in to impersonate them. Oh yes, there is also a "Colonel Slobberly, of the Worcestershire Slobberlies."
Jackson Ross Best, Jr. displays excellent comic timing as Gravvins. The sight of him in knickers and an argyle vest, declaring, "Oh, I do love a garden party" tickled me, and the ongoing musical patter with partner Gripps (Mark Woodard), set to Kern's charming music, is a running delight throughout. Also notable here is Allen Lewis Rickman, one of my favorite theater performers due to his natural comedic talent and the fact that he always looks like he stepped right out of another era. And plucky Tia Zorne as Little Ada, who delivers this bubbly babble: "My name's Little Ada! Really it's Ada Little! But that's my nom de theatre. It looks good on buses."
The characters here are pleasantly daffy, saying such things as: "I'm in a condition that can best be described as goofy" and "I took the place of a girl in the chorus who went to get married. She came back after a week and said, 'The bride was a bad part.'" Also: "Kindly lower your voice." "I can't. I'm a tenor." And this exchange: "Would you do anything in the world for me, Horace?" "What do you mean?" "If I left my gloves in the lion's den, would you run in and get them for me?" "Well, no. But I'd buy you a new pair of gloves."
One of the many good things about Thomas Sabella-Mills's direction is that he never overdoes it. This is farce, as are many of the musical comedies performed here and directed by Sabella-Mills, and the temptation with farce can be for performers to slapstick it up or mug for the audience. Sabella-Mills's direction keeps it dignified.
Cabaret Girl opened at London's Winter Garden Theatre in 1922. As Miller told us before the show began, "It ran for 361 performances. And it never came to Broadway. Until now."