‘My One and Only’ brings style and charm to Goodspeed

By Andrew J. Concatelli - ReminderNews Assistant Editor
East Haddam - posted Wed., May. 18, 2011
Gabrielle Ruiz and Tony Yazbeck and the cast of ‘My One and Only’ will make you smile at the Goodspeed Opera House through June 25. Photo by Diane Sobolewski, Goodspeed Musicals. - Contributed Photo

“My One and Only,” billed as Goodspeed Musicals’ latest “tap dance spectacular,” is an old-fashioned, toe-tapping theatrical experience. The talent and sheer energy displayed by the cast is a thrilling site to behold, as the show-stopping George and Ira Gershwin song and dance numbers keep piling up from curtain to curtain.

Set in the stylish roaring ’20s, the story follows a daredevil aviator who yearns to be the first to fly across the Atlantic, but his goals take a backseat to love when he falls for an English Channelswimmer. The young woman is under the control of her manager, Price Nicolai, so the pilot does all he can to win the lady’s affection and bring her away to freedom. Full of flyboys, flappers and bootleggers, “My One and Only” brings the glamorous era to life in fittingly nostalgic ways, from newsreel footage to sequined costumes. As soon as a dozen dancers with yellow rain gear and umbrellas start a furiously-paced and perfectly-synced tap routine on the set’s raised platforms in opening number “I Can’t Be Bothered Now,” you know you’re in for a treat.

The pilot, Captain Billy Buck Chandler, is played by Tony Yazbeck (“Gypsy”), and swimmer Edythe Herbert is played by Gabrielle Ruiz (“In The Heights”). The two Broadway vets get their first duet in “Boy Wanted/Soon,” which nicely sets up their first encounter. The tongue-in-cheek love theme “Blah, Blah, Blah” seems more like an outline of where a romantic tune should be, but the show’s overall lack of memorable or substantive songs affirms that the focus here is undoubtedly on the dancing. That’s not a reflection on the performances, which are outstanding. Yazbeck’s solo “Strike Up The Band” ends Act 1 with a powerful blast, and his dancing looks both effortless and impressive, with his face lit up in a grin the whole time. Ruiz shines in the wistful romantic interlude “’S Wonderful,” bringing more than a hint of Julie Andrews to her vocals.

Khris Lewin’s Price Nicolai – complete with cartoon villain accent and mustache – doesn’t add much of a dramatic conflict, but his surprise “Funny Face” duet with Billy’s peppy mechanic Mickey (Kirsten Wyatt) adds a welcome laugh.

Trent Armand Kendall plays to the audience as The Rev. J.D. Montgomery, who happily preaches and skirts prohibition at his nightclub. Alde Lewis, Jr., plays the enigmatic Mr. Magix, who teaches Billy the way to a high-class woman’s heart. Lewis struggles a bit vocally with “High Hat,” but all is forgiven when he gets up to give a clinic in tap style and swagger in the second act showcase “My One & Only.” You’ll wish you were right at the edge of the stage to keep an eye on Yazbeck and Lewis’s frisky feet. By the finale, all the characters are living happily ever after and the entire exuberant cast is “Kickin’ the Clouds Away.”

“My One and Only” has something of an unusual and round-about history in the theater. The Gershwins composed the music and lyrics for the 1927 Broadway musical “Funny Face,” which featured Fred and Adele Astaire, and included songs like “’S Wonderful,” “High Hat” and “My One & Only.” By the time it came back to Broadway in 1983, the revival turned into more of a complete reconstruction, as the title was changed, only seven songs were retained, and an entirely new story was created by Timothy S. Mayer and Peter Stone. To fill out the score, Gershwin songs from other shows and movies – such as “Strike Up The Band” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It” – were plugged in. This heavily adapted “revival” starred Tommy Tune and Twiggy, and it went on to win several Tony Awards, including recognition for best choreography. Goodspeed’s choreography, by Kelli Barclay, is just as commendable.

Directed by Ray Roderick – who previously brought “Singin’ in the Rain” and “42nd Street” to the Goodspeed stage – and set designer James Youmans have a few tricks up their sleeve for this production. The flying effect used during Billy’s introduction is simple yet clever and effective, and the way set pieces and props glide on and off the stage provides plenty of room for dancing. The art deco set relies heavily on high-tech digital projections, which thankfully don’t distract from the wonderfully retro mood of the show.

“My One and Only” will run at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddamthrough June 25. Tickets are available through the box office, at 860-873-8668, or online at www.goodspeed.org.

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