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No Strings

The Reprise! production of Richard Rodgers' 1962 musical is visually stunning, but leads Scott Bakula and Sophina Brown lack chemistry. logo
Sophina Brown and Scott Bakula in No Strings
(© Michael Lamont)
Essential to a musical set in the fashion world of Paris, the Reprise! production of Richard Rodgers' 1962 musical No Strings is a cornucopia of delightful sights -- most notably, the costumes by Bob Mackie and Joe McFate, which are an explosion of colors and wild designs.

Unfortunately, there's little else to recommend here, especially since stars Scott Bakula and Sophina Brown -- taking on the roles originated by Richard Kiley and Diahann Carroll -- lack the appropriate voices for the show and display little chemistry.

Rodgers, writing a full score of music and lyrics on his own for the first time, created this rather lightweight show two years after his partner Oscar Hammerstein's death. No Strings yielded one modest hit, "The Sweetest Sounds," and there are several other enjoyable songs, such as "Eager Beaver" and "Loads of Love." But, overall, the score lacks heft and is in desperate need of a showstopper. Similarly, Samuel Taylor's script is paper-thin, with flimsy characters and a lack of real conflict.

While in Paris, expatriate writer David Jordan (Bakula) falls instantly in love with African-American model Barbara Woodruff (Brown), who lives with her elder "mentor." David easily steals Barbara away from his rival, but the couple quickly discover that their needs clash. That's it; end of story. What was racy, even shocking 45 years ago -- the romance of an interracial couple -- is decidedly tame today.

It all might work better if Brown's stiff delivery didn't constantly collide with Bakula's bombastic performance. In a deep blue turtleneck, Nehru jacket, and Caesar haircut, Bakula unsuccessfully attempts to look 15 years younger than his age. Worse, his voice sounds like it's caught in the back of his throat, while Brown is off-pitch in most of her numbers.

As the secondary couple, the coquettish Jeanette and her hound-dog boyfriend Luc, Carla Tassara and Brent Schindele exude the chemistry missing in the leads. Ruth Williamson lends vinegar to this sugary tale as Barbara's caustic but enchanting editor (the character appears to be a carbon copy of Kay Thompson's in the film Funny Face).

Bets Malone once again steals the show in the minor role of Comfort O'Connell, an heiress who buys love from gigolos. Malone can win a laugh just saying "Bon-jerrrr" in her Tulsa accent. Whether beginning "Eager Beaver" upside down on a staircase or flirting with a bevy of half-nude bathers, her witty delivery masks her character's inherent sadness. She also becomes Mackie and McFate's personal Barbie doll, sporting a sassy aqua genie outfit in one number and a tight black body suit with a gold lamé half-cape in another.

Cole attempts to breathe life into the show with clever visuals. For example, the models are presented in one scene posing in silhouette against a red backdrop, creating a vivid tableau. Lighting designer Steven Young reflects vivid shades of lime, pink, and violet off the gossamer curtains. In a beach scene, he delicately places a fire red spot against the stage left curtain to represent a sunset, while a haunting green light soaks the actors in another scene.

With so much to see, it's disappointing that there's not more worth watching in this No Strings.

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