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New Girl In Town

Irish Rep presents an enticing revival of the Bob Merrill-George Abbot tuner, based on Eugene O'Neill's 1921 drama Anna Christie.

Patrick Cummings, Margaret Loesser Robinson, and company
in New Girl In Town
Carol Rosegg)
Bob Merrill wrote such a clever and often catchy score for the George Abbott-written 1957 tuner New Girl In Town that it's reason enough to hotfoot it over to the Irish Repertory Theatre for the current revival.

Other enticements are Margaret Loesser Robinson's performance as Anna, a bitter hooker trying to turn her squalid life around and Danielle Ferland's performance as wise, funny barfly Marthy, who eventually does Anna right -- and wrong.

The tuner is an adaptation of Anna Christie, Eugene O'Neill's 1921 drama, which is not -- as most O'Neill plays are not -- the first thing that springs to mind for ideal musical-comedy treatment.

That was true then, when Abbott -- who directed the original production -- did a serviceable job on both helming and script-preparation, and is true now as Anna, exhausted and fresh from prison and hospital, visits her barge captain father Chris Christopherson (Cliff Bemis), because she has nowhere else to go.

Keeping her compromised past from Chris but not from the savvy Marthy, she meets shipwrecked seaman Matt (Patrick Cummings, a handsome fellow with a gorgeous baritone and looking more like Billy Budd than may be right for the piece). It's love at first sight for them, which is fine and dandy until he learns the truth about her, balks and walks.

No, it's not crying-out-for-musical-expression stuff, but the theme of sexual shame and its negative effects is perhaps more dated now than it was in 1921, or 1957 -- and many of Merrill's ditties buoy the show's depressed spirits.

Granted, several of the songs give the impression of being inserted with some embarrassment and are quickly dispensed with here. But then, boosted by a tasty four-man combo conducted by John Bell, there's "Flings," which Ferland sells with Amber Stone and Kimberly Dawn Neumann abetting her, "Yer My Friend, Aintcha?" for Marthy and Chris (so what if it's a rewrite of Cole Porter's "Friendship"?) and the ballad "Did You Close Your Eyes?"

One of this outing's best numbers is the barroom mock-weeper "Sunshine Girl" -- in part it goes, "The sunshine girl has raindrops in her eyes" -- and not only does Barry McNabb stage it snappily (as he usually does when handed an Irish Rep musical), but it features a stylish turn by Stephen Zinnato, who also plays sax during multiple scene-changing cross-overs.

Curiously, one of the original production's showstoppers, "There Ain't No Flies on Me" doesn't show up. Perhaps director Charlotte Moore considered it too carefully tailored for original star Gwen Verdon by her choreographer husband Bob Fosse to make the transition to this daunting postage-stamp stage. But, whereas the adored Verdon always had some Charity Hope Valentine in her characterizations, Robinson does the part with unflinching realism, which is all to the good.