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Iron Curtain

Prospect Theater Company revives this hilarious musical about two song-and-dance men conscripted to Moscow during the Cold War.

Jenn Gambatese (in white) and company
in Iron Curtain
(© Gerry Goodstein)
It's a mystery to me why Iron Curtain, a highly polished revival of Prospect Theater Company's hilarious 2006 hit about two song-and-dance men conscripted to Moscow during the Cold War, should be in the Baruch Performing Arts Center -- and not, say, Broadway.

There's some irony implicit there -- and designer Brian Prather rolls with the space's physical limitations to suggest the strictures of socialist agitprop. Choreographer Christine O'Grady and costumer Sidney Shannon play along, creating a rib-cracker of a proletarian dance number which features a "wheat ballerina," en pointe, trying to elude the pointy end of a pitchfork.

Later, at the other aesthetic extreme, the team -- under Cara Reichel's witty direction -- manages to suggest Busby Berkeley-style grandeur with just a couple of rolling platforms and a Grade A cast.

The raw materials -- book by Susan DiLallo, music by Stephen Weiner, lyrics by Peter Mills -- give them plenty to work with. David Perlman and Todd Alan Johnson play the songwriting team of Murray Finkel and Howard Katz, a classic pairing of optimist/pessimist. Having failed to put over their latest oeuvre, about a seemingly cursed baseball team (Damn Yankees got the jump on their Faust-Ball), they're desperate. Happening upon a want-ad in Variety, hopefully proffered by Howard's self-professed "fiancee to be," the waitress and actress manqué Shirley Dooley (Maria Couch), they jump to secure an appointment at the sketchy office of "Onanov Broadway." No sooner have the vodka toasts been tossed back than they find themselves bound and gagged and headed for the harsh bosom of Mother Russia.

Gordon Stanley plays Onanov, "Director of the Ministry of Musical Persuasion," with a fine, firm voice and an appealing twinkle: the guy is a true musical aficionado, just doing his best to pep up a homegrown horror titled "Oh Kostroma." A menacing Aaron Ramey portrays Sergei Schmearnov, Onanov's KGB-appointed colleague/enforcer, who's given to fondling his variegated arsenal when not cackling like Vincent Price. Bobbi Kotula aces the role of Hildret Heinz, an East Berlin-bred director and committed dominatrix.

Plucked from the chorus line to star in the rewrite -- fittingly, because she's a dynamite singer -- is Jenn Gambatese's Masha Petrovna Haylukmikova (props are due Les Ballets Trocadéro for the mock-monikers). Predictably enough, Masha/Mashenka/Mashunya/Mashunechka -- her pet names expand in sync with the intimacies she permits -- will turn into Murray's love interest. Where they take it from there, however, defies convention.

A couple of factors seem to have conspired against the success of Iron Curtain, including the need for a sizable cast (numbering 15 here, all of them excellent), and a running time that feels just a touch long, at 2 ½ hours. It's not so much that the second act drags. Still, a semi-superfluous paean to old-style showbiz (a second Berkeley homage, "If Not for Musicals") pales in the wake of the comically schizophrenic cri de coeur "A Frau Divided."

But this is the tiniest of quibbles when it comes to a show that will likely have you "leffing" till you're Red in the face.