This show was a heavy revision of a half-forgotten Broadway bomb from the Seventies, So Long, 174th Street, but don’t dismiss it too easily on that account. The original play on which the musical was based was an absolute comedic gem about a hopelessly inept aspiring actor and the havoc he causes on stage, and this ‘revisal’ takes the musical back to its original source.
The production made two very wise decisions that neatly deleted most of the problems with the original production. Firstly, it cast a young, fresh-faced, innocent-seeming actor as the lead character. The original had tried to cast big-name star Robert Morse, of How To Succeed fame, and while Morse would have been ideal fifteen years earlier, by this point he was simply too old, making the story unconvincing and much of the show’s raunchy humor downright creepy. Secondly, they consequently got rid of the stupid framing device that was designed to justify Morse’s age, which completely ruins the joke the play’s finale is built on.
The show’s main remaining weakness is the score. It has its amusing moments, particularly the hilarious showstoppers “Men” and “The Butler’s Song” (the latter sung here by the great George S. Irving, reprising his role from the original version), but it’s still seriously uneven, with dreadful items like the insipid love songs “It’s Like” and “Being With You”, the unpleasant “If You Want To Break Your Mother’s Heart”, and the wince-inducing “Undressing Girls With My Eyes” (which wasn’t in the show when I saw it, but was included on the cast album). The most confusing decision made in this revision was the choice to cut one of the original score’s best songs, the sensual “Bolero On Rye”, which would have bolstered the score considerably.
Still, in spite of the problematic score, this is one of the most delightful off-Broadway musicals of the last few years, and while the cast album is only a minor acquisition, you should definitely see the actual show if you at any point get the chance.
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