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Hey, Look Me Over!
Conceived by Jack Viertel; directed by Marc Bruni
Performances February 7-11, 2018
Vanessa Williams (center) in Hey, Look Me Over! (photo: Joan Marcus)
City Center’s Encores has as its mission to resurrect obscure or unjustly forgotten musicals for a week’s worth of semi-staged performances. And for the first show of its 25th anniversary season, we got something called Hey, Look Me Over!, a look at shows that even Encores has passed over for whatever reason—it’s 2-1/2 hours of excerpts from nine musicals that opened on Broadway between 1957 and 1974, but have been (mostly) unheard of since their short runs.
The show’s conceit is that Bob Martin—of Drowsy Chaperone fame—comes onstage as our MC of sorts, introducing the performances and giving us some context, along with some hoary (and a couple of amusing) theater and political jokes. But despite the creakiness of the concept, there is the music and the performances, which is why we are all in the theater in the first place.
To be sure, a lot of what is excerpted for Hey, Look Me Over! is not top-drawer—it’s easy to hear why Cy Coleman’s Wildcat (which includes the evening’s title tune) or Charles Strouse’s All-American have remained obscure—but even when the material isn’t top-notch, the performers are. Take Vanessa Williams, who dazzles in two numbers from Jamaica, a show with music by Harold Arden that was a vehicle for Lena Horne. Or Bebe Neuwirth, who snarls spectacularly as the jaded cruise hostess Mimi in Noel Coward’s witty Sail Away, which was written for Elaine Stritch (whom I saw in a 1999 Carnegie Hall concert version).
Clifton Duncan kills it in “Never Will I Marry” from Frank Loesser’s Greenwillow, Judy Kuhn and Marc Kudisch sing an appealing “Shalom” from Jerry Herman’s Milk and Honey, and Alexandra Socha takes center stage for a thrilling “Look What Happened to Mabel” from Herman’s Mack and Mabel, a flawed but lively musical I saw at Canada’s Shaw Festival in 2007 and which definitely deserves a second life somewhere on a New York stage.
Although the finale—“Give My Regards to Broadway” from George M., with sensational tap-dancing and a surprise guest—is anti-climactic, Hey, Look Me Over! remains a delightful evening of sheer entertainment, skillfully directed by Marc Bruni, choreographed by Denis Jones and conducted by Rob Berman, whose Encores Orchestra is, as always, the evening’s true highlight.
New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, New York, NY
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