Blair Ross and Paolo Montalban
in The Boys From Syracuse
(© Richard Anderson)
Blair Ross and Paolo Montalban
in The Boys From Syracuse
(© Richard Anderson)
Dromio, Dromio, wherefore art thou, Dromio? Well, thou art in the land of musical comedy, that's where! So cue hi-jinks, cue mistaken identity! Director David Schweizer's rollicking, antic staging of The Boys from Syracuse at Baltimore's Center Stage means to reinstate its bubbly, 1930's effervescence as well as amplify (and in some ways update) its Three Stooges-like slapstick for modern audiences.

The 1938 musical -- which is based on Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, which in turn was based on Plautus' The Menaechmi -- was a mid-career Broadway hit for the timeless songwriting team of Rodgers and Hart and director George Abbott. And while Boys rarely tops anyone's list of all-time great musicals -- despite such wonderful tunes as "Falling in Love with Love" and "Sing for Your Supper" -- it's worth noting here that when the show premiered, its defining concept of marrying vaudeville schtick to Roman /Shakespearean comedy was indeed quite novel.

For any fan of the show whose spirits were dampened by the Roundabout's dismal Broadway revival a few seasons ago, this production should more than resuscitate their fondness for the piece. In visualizing the familiar tale of two sets of twins separated in infancy who accidentally re-discover each other as adults, Schweizer and his crack design team have clearly enjoyed themselves. Allen Moyer's scenery -- rooted, appropriately enough, in the unfussy set-drop world of the vaudeville stage -- and David Zinn's broad, colorful costumes include sly references to blue-and-white Greek diner coffee-cup fresco embroidery. Meanwhile, Christopher Akerlind's lighting manages to create sunny Ephesus streets as often as it wittily, if anachronistically, bathes a sultry number in the purple-blues of Depression-era New York supper clubs.

Schweizer's talented company also takes marching (and stepping and kicking) orders from choreographer Dan Knechtges. Moreover, under the swinging baton of musical director and orchestrator Wayne Barker, they easily create the illusion that they far outnumber their mere 17 members. Schweizer has also gone decidedly rainbow in his casting, and part of his comedic point seems to be that it matters not that either set of twins resemble the other. Still, one might have hoped for funnier Anitpholuses than Paolo Montalban and Manu Narayan, though their singing is spot-on.

Charlotte Cohn makes for a lovely Adriana with the kind of silvery soprano almost extinct in contemporary musical theater, while big-boned Charlie Parker is all sass-and-snap as Luce. As Luciana, Rona Figueroa nicely rounds out the Boswell Sisters-like trio for "Sing for Your Supper." Laura Lee Anderson, Rosa Curry, and Jessica Wu do very nicely indeed as showgirls who sing, dance, vamp, and carry scene placards across the stage with vintage Gypsy Rose Lee poise.

Best of all is the Madame Courtesan of Blair Ross, whose show-stopping gams, throaty voice and drop-dead delivery recall nothing less than Kay Thompson by way of Sally Kellerman. The audience is already on a musical comedy-caffeinated high by the time the show gets to her eleven o'clock number, "Oh, Diogenes," so Ross simply lifts them a notch higher into ecstasy. And though her slinky harlot's costume most certainly contains nothing as prosaic as a back pocket, that's exactly where Ross puts the show before sauntering triumphantly offstage.

If everything in Boys shot up to musical comedy heaven as it does in that moment, the entire audience would follow it up gladly. Yet, here and there, the production remains earthbound. For instance, the curious interpolation of "Everything I've Got" for Luce and Dromio of Syracuse (Michael Winther) doesn't do much to illuminate the characters, and registers as one of the few numbers in which the performers seem only half-invested.

And it must be said that Abbott's inspired-silliness plotting, which is great fun in Act One, tends to become merely silly plodding in Act Two. Still, Schweizer, Knechtges, and Barker manage to keep the whole enterprise zipping along with the speed of a Road Runner cartoon.

Despite its flaws, The Boys From Syracuse is a great big holiday present for Baltimore theatergoers -- a glittering, festive treat that restores faith in the power of musical comedy.