Chicago Theatre Review
Rachel York, “You’re The Top” in This Revival
Can there be any better way to shake off the blues inflicted by Chicago’s never-ending winter than with a bright, champagne bubbly, laughed-filled Broadway revival that offers star talent, opulent costumes and sets, a classic score and more tap dancing than any show currently playing? This 2011 Tony Award winner for Best Musical Revival was directed and choreographed by the brilliant Kathleen Marshall for New York’s Roundabout Theatre. In addition, the production deservedly won Tonys for choreography and its lead actress, Sutton Foster. This National Tour which is, by the way, an Equity production, stars the boundlessly talented Broadway star Rachel York as Reno Sweeney and an entire cast of talented triple threats who make this production look effortless in their accomplishments.
How does a show that’s had more incarnations than Shirley MacLaine hold up in the 21st century? To begin with, there’s Cole Porter’s delectable, timeless score, astounding for the number of hit classics it generated. There are tunes like the title song, a ten-minute plus full-cast production number that brings the audience to its feet…and that’s just the end of Act I. There’s the rousing spiritual-styled, “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” another full-cast production number that builds and builds to a frenzied conclusion. Throw in “You’re the Top,” a mini-history lesson that drops the names of the most famous people, places and inventions of the 1930’s. There’s “Friendship,” “I Get a Kick Out of You” (going down like a smooth bourbon by Ms. York), “It’s De-Lovely,” “Easy to Love” and so many other hummable, danceable standards from the American Songbook. And that would be reason enough to revive this eternal favorite.
But the score is matched by a great book, first written in 1934 by a collaboration between the likes of P. G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Timothy Crouse (Russel’s son) and John Weidman spruced up the story a bit for today’s audiences and Bill Elliot provided additional Cole Porter music and new orchestrations. Derek McLane and Martin Pakledinaz’s elegant set and costume designs complete the package.
This entire touring company is absolutely first-rate. Rachel York, the consummate leading lady from Broadway and National Tours of “Victor/Victoria,” “Kiss Me Kate” and “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” stars as a Mae West-infused Reno Sweeney. This accomplished veteran of stage, screen, TV and concert halls provides a masterclass in how to properly deliver a song. But beyond that, Ms. York has honed her choreographic skills and comic timing into an art form. In short, Rachel York is the best reason to catch this musical before it leaves Chicago.
However, without her supporting cast, Ms. York would simply be performing a concert version of Cole Porter hits (which would be enough for this reviewer). She’s working with handsome song-and-dance man, Josh Franklin as Billy Crocker; the master of the subtle comedic take, Fred Applegate, as Moonface Martin; talented singer-dancer and dashing Errol Flynn-like Edward Staudenmayer, as Sir Evelyn Oakleigh; Broadway bombshell Joyce Chittick as the Betty Boop-voiced sexpot, gun moll, Erma; and Chicago’s own, character actor supreme, Dennis Kelly, as the charming, always inebriated Elisha Whitney. Sweet, Alex Finke is charming as Billy’s love interest, Hope Harcourt, and the divine Sandra Shipley mines every double-entendre as her mother, Mrs. Harcourt. The large ensemble of over-the-top singing and dancing talent just have to be seen to be appreciated.
In an era that worships celebrities from every bizarre walk of life, the subplot of this musical doesn’t feel all that old-fashioned or far-fetched. The three love stories (and not just between the young‘uns either) delightfully play out to the final moments of the show. So of course, by the finale everyone lives happily ever after, which obviously only happens aboard an Art Deco cruise ship overflowing with debutantes, dancing and dry martinis.
by Colin Douglas
Presented April 24-May 5 by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago.
Tickets are available at 800-775-2000 or at www.BroadwayinChicago.com.
For additional information about this and other shows go to www.theatreinchicago.com