KPBS AIRDATE: March 31, 1993
“Lady Be Good” is the kind of show that makes you really appreciate what “Oklahoma” did for musical theatre.
Before that 1943 groundbreaker, musicals — that uniquely American theater form — were mainly just an excuse for a few good songs and a funny guy… a kind of vaudeville revue loosely tied together with a silly plot line that related weakly, if at all, to the words and music.
The 1924 “Lady Be Good’ has two things going for it: George and Ira Gershwin, who wrote the music and lyrics. The book, by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson, is as goofy as they go; although, dealing as it does with white collar homelessness, it could have some resonance for today if it were handled differently.
Dick and Susie, an orphan brother and sister, lose their money and get evicted from their apartment. They pursue a variety of screwball plots to try to recoup some funds so they can marry their loved ones.
As luck would have it, Susie’s beloved, a hobo who just happens along while she’s sitting on her bed, which has been put out in the middle of the street, turns out to be the heir to a fabulous estate. There’s a party at a rich woman’s house and one at a yacht club, mostly to justify several reprises of the title song and the incredibly wonderful, jazzy, syncopated “Fascinatin’ Rhythm.” The rest of the songs aren’t anywhere near that caliber, except for the score’s most famous, “The Man I Love,” which never even appeared in the original show, dropped during the pre-Broadway tryout and plopped into “Strike Up the Band” six years later.
Now, as for the local “Lady,” the San Diego Comic Opera has gathered together a few good singers, a few good dancers and a few good musicians. But the whole is not equal to the sum of its parts. And the gears don’t seem to mesh. The production fairly screams ‘underready’ and ‘amateurish.’ Maybe things will pick up and fall into place as time goes on, but it’s a short run, only through the weekend.
The real spark of the production is J. Sherwood Montgomery, who milks every minute from the comic character, the sleazy lawyer Watty Watkins. He prances and mugs and cavorts and ad libs and is an all-around hoot. He alone is worth the price of admission. He’s perfect.
The rest of the 23-member cast is competent, though no one stands out as remarkable. As Dick’s intended, Sandra Kelley has a good voice and great legs. The tap-dancing duo of David Brannen and Shauna Markey as the hapless Dick and Susie are fine, but their performances won’t do for them what the Broadway version did for Fred and Adele Astaire.
The choreography is cute, and sparkles during “Fascinatin’ Rhythm.” But not much else fascinates, though the costumes are quite nice. Otherwise, the production follows the titular dictum: ‘Be Good,’ not Be Superlative.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1993 Patté Productions Inc.