Toe-Tapping Entertainment

by David A. Rosenberg

If you miss those old 1920s and 1930s musicals that were once mainstays of a Goodspeed season, hie thee to “My One and Only,” the hybrid George and Ira Gershwin show now tap-dancing up a storm in East Haddam. From its paper-thin libretto and bad jokes to its lovely chorines, handsome chorus boys and memorable songs, this throwback to the good ole days will set feet going and smiles widening.

Time was, Goodspeed was the home of such nostalgic crowd-pleasers. That’s before the theater went for the famous and overly-familiar, before the likes of “Annie Get Your Gun” and “42nd Street,” which everyone must have seen at least once if not several times.

With “My One and Only,” a mishmash re-working of the 1927 “Funny Face,” the theater promises nothing deeper than cheerful, unencumbered entertainment. And that’s what we get for the most part, despite several serious drawbacks.

But, when Tony Yazbeck as barnstorming pilot Billy Buck Chandler and Alde Lewis, Jr. as the advice-dispensing Mr. Magix, start singing and dancing to the title song, forget your troubles and come on get happy. The beauty of the number is that it’s not a hit-‘em-on-the-head interlude, as are some others in this loose-fitting show. No, Yazbeck and particularly Lewis play with the audience, bursting with dazzling footwork, then contrasting that with subtle, whispering steps that tell their own story.

Yazbeck (who played Tulsa in the recent Patti LuPone revival of “Gypsy”), is Texas-sized big, as was Tommy Tune in the initial Broadway run of “My One and Only.” True, Yazbeck is more urban cowboy than western hick, but he has a puppy-dog mien that works well for a naïve character who gives up visions of being the first to fly non-stop across the Atlantic in favor of pursuing the girl of his dreams.

Unfortunately, that girl, English Channel swimmer Edythe Herbert, is not given much oomph by Gabrielle Ruiz. She sings and dances well, yet is so remote that there’s little chemistry between her and Yazbeck. Whether by direction or choice, falling in love with him seems like doing him a favor.

Ah, but that score triumphs over all, with such gems as “’S Wonderful,” “Blah, Blah, Blah,” “Nice Work if You Can Get it,” “How Long Has This Been Going On” and “Funny Face.” It also has the lovely “He Loves and She Loves,” though here, sadly, it’s buried in a poorly written and directed scene.

But we’re not watching for the romance, folks. Rather, it’s those straight-for-the viscera dances, choreographed with unerring precision by Kelli Barclay, that we’ve come to see. The ensemble, worthies all, is as toothy and energetic as one could hope for.

Wisely, director Ray Roderick gets out of the way. But he has elicited charming performances from Trent Armand Kendall as a fun-filled reverend and Kirsten Wyatt as Mickey, the tomboy mechanic with a yen for Billy. She ends up, instead, with a phony prince, played with conviction but little believability by Khris Lewin.

No matter. The Peter Stone and Timothy S. Mayer libretto may be pure dross, but Goodspeed fills in the cracks with a crackling production filled with gorgeous period costumes by Robin L. McGee, dazzling lighting by Paul Miller, amusing sets by James Youmans and inspired projections by Michael Clark, not to mention spirited music direction by Michael O’Flaherty. And, when Lewis and Yazbeck do their second-act routine, you’re hooked.

This review appeared in The Hour, Thursday, May 19, 2011:

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