Phew. I'm finally caught up with my blogging on this season's musicals. (And it wasn't always pretty, m'kay?) Also, I've submitted all of my grades at the Boston Conservatory, so I have a chance to go back and catch up on a few shows that I was able to see but haven't yet had the opportunity to blog about.
One show that fell between the blogging cracks for me was the delightful Encores production of Where's Charley?, which is just the sort of obscure little gem that we look to institutions like Encores to discover, dust off, and restore to its former luster. This lively little confection boasts music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by George Abbott, based on the fin de siècle farce Charley's Aunt by Brandon Thomas.
In retrospect, it's hard to imagine how such a charming show could drift into obscurity. Frank Loesser would, of course, go on to craft the scores to such notable shows as Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The star of Where's Charley? was Ray Bolger, who was already a significant star of both stage and screen when the show premiered in 1948, and who won the second-ever Tony Award for best actor in a musical. The show ran for nearly 800 performances, which is about two years, but unfortunately the score was never recorded because of a musicians' strike.
The show's London production, starring Norman Wisdom, did receive a recording, but the CD is a long-out-of-print collector's item, although the recording is available in MP3 form, and on-demand through ArvivMusic. And Bolger recorded some of the songs independently, including "Make a Miracle" and "Once In Love With Amy," which are both available on this version of the Guys and Dolls cast recording.
The story to Where's Charley? isn't much to speak of. It's just one of those mistaken-identity, man-dresses-up-as-a-woman, (and-for-reasons-we-find-oh-so-droll-in-hindsight), door-slamming farces, and the plot complications are often ridiculously thin. (One woman becomes jealous of her suitor because of the picture of an attractive woman that he keeps on his piano. Oh, horror!) And the show's denouement rests upon a development that is every bit as predictable as it is flimsy.
However, Frank Loesser's score is charming, overflowing with a rich profusion of delights that hint strongly at the future genius of Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed (the latter of which I also saw, and thoroughly enjoyed, the same weekend I took in Where's Charley?). What's more, the songs clearly reflect the Rodgers & Hammerstein revolution, each serving a specific dramatic purpose within the context of the show. "My Darling, My Darling" is a lilting love song with surprisingly erudite lyrics, reflecting the education level of the characters. "Make a Miracle" is a comic list song that illustrates time and place by enumerating many of technological advances awaiting the show's late-19th-Century characters.
I wasn't quite sure of the relevance of "The New Ashmolean Marching Society and Students' Conservatory Band," although with Encores shows, that's often more a function of playwright David Ives' adaptations than a reflection on the quality of the original piece. Nonetheless, the score to Where's Charley? deserves a full, modern recording. Perhaps the Loesser estate could persuade (and by "persuade" I mean "pay") Tommy Krasker over at PS Classics to give the score the deluxe treatment it deserves.
Director John Doyle coaxed sharp characterizations from his uniformly talented cast, and provided them with sprightly staging for the songs. Most notable among the cast was Rob McClure as Charley, who had a winning stage presence, a vibrant way with a punchline, and who proved himself quite adept at physical comedy. It was also quite a delight to see Howard McGillin and Rebecca Luker, two of the finest voices of my generation, paired together on-stage, although I must confess that it's become increasingly distressing that performers who are roughly my age are suddenly being relegated to the parental roles. (I guess this means my ingénue days are officially over. Sigh.)