NY City Center Encores! production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes belongs to the Ensemble, and it’s in very good hands! Rob Berman’s orchestra is superb and is neatly paired with Randy Skinner’s lush choreography. This show is filled with dance and cast with actual dancers. The chorus is actual singers as well.
There is a number towards the end of Act I, “In the Champ de Mars” when the chorus does not use body microphones. They stand on the edge of the stage and sing out. It is practically disorienting to hear sound and be able to locate its source. These singers do not need amplification or tricks of any kind, they are the real thing. If hearing truly talented singers unplugged isn’t enough to knock your socks off there are Attmore & Grimes. Yowza. This tap-dancing duo (in real life as well) perform “Mamie is Mimi” with Megan Skiro (a spit-fire dancer brimming with all kinds of personality.) It has been a very (very) long time since I have seen this kind of dancing anywhere but in an old MGM movie. Simply stunning.
While Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Music: Jule Styne, Lyrics: Leo Rubin, Book: Anita Loos & Joseph Fields) is not the most riveting of musicals, director John Rando made much of it. There is enough fun and powerful talent in this production that I found myself fantasizing of a dream team of Kristin Chenoweth and Laura Benanti as Lorelei and Dorothy. Those roles are currently filled with Megan Hilty and Rachel York. The audience loved them, and Mr. Rando predicted it. Every number of Ms. Hilty’s was split into three parts, allowing the audience to applaud in triplicate. Ms. York came in at the end of dance numbers to throw her arms up and receive applause. I’m not sure Dorothy needs to be a dancer, so it’s best to keep her off the stage and allow the dancer’s their moment. The audience was so enamored with Ms. Hilty that at one point they wildly applauded her dress. Yet I found this duo unsettling. Ms. York almost disappeared as Dorothy (when she wasn’t taking a bow.) Ms. Hilty’s interpretation seemed more Betty Boop (with blond wig) than Lorelei. When the second act opens, Dorothy and friend enter in red dresses. The blond with her seemed so much more toned down than in Act I. I let out a small sigh of relief. Then I realized the blond was in fact Mrs. Spofford (Ella Rush) and not Lorelei.
See this show for the dancing and the incredible orchestra. See this show to remember what songs sound like with out technical tricks. See this show to experience an Overture and Entr’acte. None of these elements should be taken for granted. If you’ve ever experience a Broadway musical at which the conductor is waving his arms to an empty pit (the music being piped in from the basement and locales unknown) you know exactly what I mean.