Valerie Cutko
Valerie Cutko
Falling somewhere between the scrappy Musicals Tonight! series and the ultra-sophisticated City Center Encores! comes a new entry -- at least, on these shores -- in the musical theater nostalgia business. Lost Musicals is a company that was formed in England in 1989 as a way of introducing to the British public, via staged readings, the work of great American composers, lyricists, and librettists with which they might well be unfamiliar.

Now, Lost Musicals has come to New York with its first production, a staged reading of a show that even some of us Americans are unfamiliar with: Silk Stockings (1955), with music and lyrics by Cole Porter and a book by George S. Kaufman, Leueen MacGrath, and Abe Burrows.

Unlike the Encores! series, one of the hallmarks of Lost Musicals is that those involved do not edit, rewrite, or update the shows in any way. These are also far less elaborate productions, using just a piano and no sets. The cast, with scripts in hand, is more of a tried-and-true group than you will find at Musicals Tonight! but not the sort of A-list musical theater stars often featured at Encores!

For instance, the accomplished actor Daniel Gerroll plays the leading role of Hollywood agent Steven Canfield (created on stage by Don Ameche, then made famous by Fred Astaire in the movie version), and he wouldn't normally be anyone's first choice for a singing role. On the other hand, the less well-known Valerie Cutko plays the Russian official Ninotchka, and she's sensational in every aspect of her performance. The show is further enhanced by the work of veteran character actors Tom Mardirosian, Robert Ari, and Wally Dunn as the three Russian stooges who are seduced by Paris.

But if you buy tickets to this show, you'll probably do so because of Cole Porter. Though this isn't one of his great scores, it does include "Stereophonic Sound" and "All of You." Plus Silk Stockings has a charming and funny book. Based on the 1939 hit movie Ninotchka, it captures the Cold War attitude toward the Soviet Union with classic, Broadway-style wisecracks -- and the digs at Hollywood are just as caustic and clever.

Ian Marshall Fisher, the founder of Lost Musicals, directed this production. While his work is laudable in many respects, it is notably flawed in that the transitions from scene to scene are achingly slow and formal. He could have easily knocked at least 15 minutes off the show's three-hour running time had he cut out all of these stage waits. Now that Fisher is working in New York, we're betting that he'll pick up the pace of his future productions!

********************

Jennifer Van Dyck, Joe Delafield, Alicia Roper, David Standish,  and Margaret Laney in The Breadwinner
(Photo © Theresa Squire)
Jennifer Van Dyck, Joe Delafield, Alicia Roper,
David Standish, and Margaret Laney in The Breadwinner
(Photo © Theresa Squire)
Bread and Chocolate

Best remembered today as the author of such classic novels as Of Human Bondage and The Razor's Edge, W. Somerset Maugham was also a rather prolific and successful playwright. The Keen Company has unearthed his 1931 London hit The Breadwinner, and it proves to be a timeless comedy about the way children and their parents relate to each other (or not). It also offers a glimpse at a mid-life crisis colored by the effects of World War I; this resonates as well because, unfortunately, that did not turn out to be The War to End All Wars.

The plot constantly surprises, the characters have dimension, the dialogue glows with intelligence, perception, and wit. Add to that the refreshingly original performance of Jack Gilpin as Charlie, a husband and father who finally speaks his mind, and the direction of Carl Forsman, who has a keen understanding of Maugham's point of view. The production flows with the same polish as the writing, so you're sure to leave the theater happy.

I's hard not to like a show that gives you free chocolate, but Forget Me Not, which concludes its brief run at PS 122 tonight, is anything but sweet. Put on by the group Praxis, the show is about death and dying; but while certain moments have a strong emotional effect, most of it just seems shticky and repetitive. Facing the big sleep avant-garde style, you enter the theater and get a hug. Then you get a chocolate kiss, dance with someone, have secrets whispered in your ear, watch a poorly made video, and finally leave the theater in a distinctly unconventional way. All of this works insofar as it makes you think and talk about an uncomfortable subject, but the show should have -- and could have -- been done much better. In short, there is a lot dead time here.

********************

[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]