Thursday, September 15, 2016
Whatever character flaws Fiorella LaGuardia had, you won’t find them in Fiorello!, the Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, George Abbott and Jerome Weidman’s musical about New York’s pint-sized former mayor. But you will find lots of heart and fun in The Berkshire Theatre Group’s revival of this Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical, now at The East 13th Street Theater.
Directed by Bob Moss, this is the first full-scale New York City and Off-Broadway revival of the hit musical, which was last seen on Broadway in 1959. Its enthusiastic cast, headed by Austin Scott Lombardi (photo, center), tells the story of a son of Italian immigrants, the man known as the “Little Flower” (his first name in Italian), a lawyer who fought for the poor and disenfranchised, “working on the side of the angels.” He became a Congressman from New York who bravely took on the corruption of Tammany Hall, then was a distinguished soldier in World War I and, after an initial defeat, the city’s mayor.
The show is two and a half hours but, with its spirit of an old-time musical and the energy of the young cast, it never drags. Carl Sprague has designed a set made up largely of cutouts of famous NYC buildings and a few tables and chairs, all of which can be pushed on an off stage easily, and replicas of old newspapers cover the stage floor.
David Murin’s costumes are a delight, especially when we move into the 1920s — love those black and rhinestone flapper dresses.
Michael Callahan has choreographed lively dancing that fills the small stage. I especially liked the ballroom dancing for “Till Tomorrow,” a moving number marking Fiorello’s departure for the war.
The singing is strong and clear. Rebecca Brudner, playing Fiorello’s first wife, Thea (in photo with Lombardi), gives an exquisite performance of “When Did I Fall in Love,” probably the show’s best-known song, where she reveals her surprise at how deeply she has fallen in love with her husband over the years.
I also appreciated Chelsea Cree Groen who plays Dora, a striking factory worker Fiorello helps early in his career. She has a beautiful voice and good comic timing.
Music director Evan Zavada has arranged the score for two pianos and a violin, and this simplicity works just fine.
It’s a treat to go to a show about a good guy who stays good, with cheery music and actors who break into song and dance without a moment’s notice. As I said, a truly old-fashioned musical. In this season of vile politics with not a good guy to be seen, it’s refreshing to have this fantasy.