N.Y. City Center Encores! is back to its old self with its production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Pipe Dream (1955.) Fully choreographed (Kelli Barclay,) with a perfect set (John Lee Beatty) and costumes (Toni-Leslie James) that by all rights should be in my closet, Encores! once again, does not disappoint.
Pipe Dream is based on two John Steinback novels (Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday) and has a certain grittiness that one may not always associate with Rodgers & Hammerstein. To be perfectly candid, I often suffer from insulin depletion at declarations of climbing every mountain, or of the corn being as high as an elephant’s eye. I’ve always been more of a; boy like that, sit down you’re rocking the boat, you’ll never get away from me, kinda gal. And while Pipe Dreams is by no means a perfect show, it has lured me onto Team R&H.
The theme of the show is that of the world of work, and not the button downed briefcase carrying kind. Much of the show takes place in both a house of…well, a house of female comfort and a flop house. There are some simply beautiful songs; Everybody’s Got A Home But Me and Suzy Is A Good Thing (which opening notes are reminiscent of the opening to Bali Hai.) There are also one or two songs that simply fall flat. However, with a strong producer (back in 1955) it’s clear that this show could have been work-shopped into something wonderful.
With any show that does not come complete with recognizable tunes or story, or has not come directly from a film or comic book; casting is key. Marc Bruni (director) hit a trifecta with Leslie Uggams, Tom Wopat and Stephen Wallem. Mr. Wopat and Ms. Uggams are in great voice and simply devour their characters. Mr. Wallem is an extremely enjoyable character actor (with a very good singing voice) and captures the character of Hazel perfectly. The male and female romantic leads; Will Chase and Laura Osnes are not as suited to their roles. Romantic leads are never that interesting to play, and without a certain spark, or electric magnetism, they are not very interesting to watch.
The real star of any Encores! production is the thirty(!) piece orchestra, directed by Rob Berman. At a time when paired down orchestras are being divided and sequestered into basement rooms with tiny monitors of the stage (across the street) it is phenomenal to see a full orchestra on the stage. When the curtain rose to reveal the elevated orchestra I heard a young girl gasp. If there is anything that is less than positive about Encores! is that the run is always far too brief. Pipe Dreams plays until April 1st.