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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

The New York Times
THEATER REVIEW; Lorelei Lee Returns, Dizzy and Savvy as Ever

Published: November 25, 1994, Friday
Whatever the feminist thinking on the subject, there is, frankly, no blonde like a dumb blonde.
The altogether snappy revival of "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" at the Goodspeed Opera House here makes a strong case that she deserves her place of honor not just in the annals of gold digging, but in those of show business, as well. The wisecracking musical by Anita Loos and Joseph Fields with a brash and brassy score by Jule Styne and Leo Robin may belong to another era (1949, to be precise), but Lorelei Lee, the girl diamonds are the best friend of, remains mint-fresh and as convulsively funny as ever.
"Gentleman Prefer Blondes" recounts her trip to "Europe, France" (yes), where her friend Dorothy, la danseuse Americaine, is to appear at the Club Cocteau. On the ship over, Lorelei can't help attracting men of all sizes and fortunes. She responds enthusiastically to Paris, a city she finds rich in historical names: "Chanel, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels." Back in New York, she marries a button tycoon after winning over his obdurate father with the candor in her saucerlike eyes and an unexpected display of business acumen.
The story couldn't be dopier. But no one at the Goodspeed is letting on -- not Charles Repole, the savvy director; not Michael Lichtefeld, who has provided some wonderfully slap-happy choreography, and certainly not K. T. Sullivan, the actress and cabaret singer who plays Lorelei.
The role made Carol Channing a star, and even at this late date it's hard to hear "I'm Just a Little Girl From Little Rock" or "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" without also hearing Ms. Channing growling and baby-talking them simultaneously. Ms. Sullivan, who brings a sweet soprano to the songs and a voluptuous spaciness to the character, proves a delight in her own fashion, however.
She looks like pink cotton candy with false eyelashes. Trotting about the stage on tippy-toes, her delicate hands extended at right angles from her curvy hips, she somehow gives the impression she is traveling by miniature pogo stick. Innocence clings to her, like a sheath; not even compromising positions compromise her. As she explains, absolving herself of all blame -- past, present and future -- "Fate is something that keeps happening to me." Who could resist, as she puts it, "a girl like I"?
Or a production like this, which is one of the Goodspeed's least formulaic efforts in several seasons. The period is the 1920's, so the set and costume designer, Eduardo Sicangco, matches Art Deco splendor with ersatz French elegance (Louis Glitz?) to come up with a stylish look for the show and its inhabitants. More miraculously, he has made the minuscule Goodspeed stage look large. We're not talking Radio City Music Hall, of course. But when Mr. Lichtefeld gets the dancing ensemble bouncing orange beach balls on the deck of the Ile de France, can-can kicking in the streets of Paris or flapping their knees and knocking their elbows in the Central Park Casino, the space actually seems to expand. It's just an illusion, helped along by Kirk Bookman's lighting, but not one that the Goodspeed pulls off often.
If there are no show-stopping performances here (Ms. Sullivan comes close), there are nonetheless excellent performances everywhere. Karen Prunczik, as Dorothy, looks swell wrapped in a blue boa, tosses off her lines smartly and taps dances energetically enough to impress Paris, if not take it by storm. As a stuffy Philadelphia millionaire, George Dvorsky comes across as a nebbish. Then he whips off his glasses, lets down his hair (metaphorically) and sings a romantic ballad ("Just a Kiss Apart") and he's an instantly attractive leading man. (Plain secretaries used to accomplish a similar trick in the movies all the time.)
The temptation to turn vintage musicals into cartoons is enormous, and even the Goodspeed, which handles them more lovingly than most companies, has not always resisted it in the past. Mr. Repole knows just where to draw the line, so that the ridiculousness of the plot and the dizziness of the characters never pass over into stupidity. Allen Fitzpatrick as the button tycoon, Jamie Ross as a jaunty health food nut and walking advertisement for the virtues of "rough, rough roughage," and David Ponting, as a randy British aristocrat, are all lively and funny. When a musical is happily mindless, as this one is, only one person has to be smart: the director.
The score, which ranges from the lilting "Bye, Bye, Baby" to the peppery "It's Delightful Down in Chile," is a Styne-way: show business with class. The original book has been pruned by a quarter of an hour or so, which keeps the numbskull plot twisting and the quips coming at a brisk pace. I'm assuming, however, that Lorelei's wit and wisdom are intact.
After all, any woman who reminds us that "possession is twelve-tenths of the law" should be allowed to talk all she wants. GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES Music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Leo Robin; book by Joseph Fields and Anita Loos; adapted from the novel by Ms. Loos; directed by Charles Repole; choreography by Michael Lichtefeld; musical direction by Andrew Wilder; sets and costumes by Eduardo Sicangco; light by Kirk Bookman; orchestrations by Doug Besterman; musical supervision and vocal arrangements by Michael O'Flaherty; dance music by G. Harrell; production coordinator, Todd Little; stage manager, Donna Cooper Hilton; artistic associate, John Pike; associate producer, Sue Frost. Produced for the Goodspeed Opera House by Michael P. Price. At East Haddam, Conn. WITH: K. T. Sullivan (Lorelei Lee), Karen Prunczik (Dorothy Shaw), Allen Fitzpatrick (Gus Esmond), Carol Swarbrick (Lady Phyllis Beekman), David Ponting (Sir Francis Beekman), Susan Rush (Mrs. Ella Spofford), George Dvorsky (Henry Spofford) and Jamie Ross (Josephus Gage).

Posted on Feb 14, 2008 by Registered CommenterEduardo Sicangco | Comments Off

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