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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Megan Hilty gives an incandescent performance as Lorelei Lee in John Rando's sparkling City Center Encores! production of the 1949 musical comedy.

Megan Hilty in
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
(© Joan Marcus)
The champagne flows freely onstage at New York City Center during Encores! Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but it's the audience that will feel heady watching John Rando's sparkling (and surprisingly elaborate) production of the 1949 musical.

And even if they're sitting in the gallery, they can't help but feel the incandescence of Megan Hilty as the diamond-loving, diamond-wearing Lorelei Lee, the not-so-dumb blonde who knows how to get what she wants (diamonds and men -- not necessarily in that order). If Hilty wasn't already a star (now courtesy of TV's Smash), her singular take on Lorelei -- a blend of calculatedly exaggerated comic line readings and powerhouse vocals --would make her one. Now, she's a supernova.

Not much needs to be said about the plot, created by Joseph Fields and Anita Loos, which follows the adventures of Lorelei and best pal Dorothy Shaw (the divine Rachel York), a pair of former showgirls traveling aboard a ship to Paris. Lorelei has left behind her lover, Gus Esmond Jr. (Clarke Thorell) in New York -- but then thinking he has dumped her, proceeds to find a series of (temporary) successors, including browbeaten philanderer Sir Francis Beekman (Simon Jones) and health nut Josephus Gage (Stephen R. Buntrock).

Meanwhile, Dorothy, who cares more for love than money, quickly succumbs to the low-key charms of Henry Spofford (Aaron Lazar), who is traveling with his wealthy, alcohol-loving mother (a droll Deborah Rush).

If the story is downright silly, the score -- by Jule Styne and Leo Robin -- is filled with gems, some being discovered by many audiences for the first time. (The majority of these songs were jettisoned for the well-known film version starring Marilyn Monroe.) York makes the most of the toe-tapping "It's High Time" and the jaunty "I Love What I'm Doing" (augmented by the presence of a quintet of talented half-naked male dancers!); Lazar croons beautifully on "Just a Kiss Apart"; and Hilty and Jones have great fun with the aptly-named "It's Delightful Down in Chile."

Hilty also gets to make her mark with the show's two most famous songs, and neither opportunity is wasted. She milks every ounce of the spirited "Little Girl from Little Rock," and she practically reinvents "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," emphasizing the deep-learned pearls of wisdom in Robin's clever lyrics, adding a dash of much-needed dimension to Lorelei.

While Diamonds, perhaps predictably, brings down the house, the biggest -- and most surprising -- showstopper is "Mamie is Mimi," in which Randy Skinner's superb, exhausting choreography -- on view through much of the show -- comes into full focus, brilliantly executed by Megan Sikora (channeling her inner Ann Miller), Jared Grimes, and Phillip Attmore.

That number is also indicative of how much Encores! has changed in the last two decades. While the orchestra remains onstage and the set is barely there, all of the performers rarely (if ever) glanced at their books. Moreover, Gentlemen features numerous costume changes for the cast, including a few truly specatcular outfits for Hilty from designer David C. Woolard, something unseen in the series' earliest days.

Yet -- as has been true of so many Encores! shows -- while this production shines more brightly than some of Broadway's current fare, this Diamonds is not forever. Catch it while you can.