"Youth will arrive!" sing the vaudeville orphans trying to prove themselves in Rodgers and Hart's Babes in Arms, and on Feb. 11 the "Encores!" concert version of the 1937 musical comedy arrived -- fueled by hit songs -- at City Center.
The first in the 1999 series of "Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert," Babes in Arms ends its limited run Feb. 14, featuring veterans Donna McKechnie, Thommie Walsh, Don Correia and Priscilla Lopez as vaudevillians who leave their kids behind to go work during the Depression. The quartet performs during the overture of the concert, directed by Kathleen Marshall, but the kids are the focus of the hit-packed show that includes "Where or When," "Johnny One-Note," "My Funny Valentine," "The Lady is a Tramp" and "I Wish I Were in Love Again."
McKechnie (A Chorus Line) and Correia (Singin' in the Rain) play the parents of juvenile character Valentine (played by Australian cabaret star David Campbell), and Lopez (A Chorus Line) and dancer choreographer Thommie Walsh (A Chorus Line & A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine) play the parents of Val's pal, Marshall (played by On the Town's Perry Laylon Ojeda).
It's Val and new-girl-in-town Billie (played by Erin Dilly) who get the show's choicest numbers: Billie sings "My Funny Valentine" and "The Lady is a Tramp" and Val gets "Where or When," "All at Once" and the title song, with other cast members.
The more youthful part of the company includes Melissa Rain Anderson (making her New York debut), Matthew Ballinger (The Sound of Music), Kevin Cahoon (The Lion King, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Christopher Fitzgerald (Corpus Christi), Scott Irby-Ranniar (The Lion King), nine-year-old tap wonder Cartier Anthony Williams, Shaun Powell (A Flea in Her Ear) and Jessica Stone (How to Succeed...). Most are 30 or younger. Once the kids' folks disappear in the cameo opening, the kids try to convince local authorities they can me more than slackers by putting on a show.
The original 289-performance production in 1937 was such a hit partly because it starred unknown performers (Mitzi Green, Ray Heatherton) in their teens or early 20s. The story concerns kids of vaudeville performers who put on a show to stop from being sent to a work farm during the Depression, while their parents are performing with the Federal Theatre Project.
Richard Riehle plays the local sheriff in the "Encores!" production. Rob Fisher, resident musical director of "Encores!," conducts.
The song list for the 1937 score also includes "Way Out West" and "Johnny One-Note" (both sung by Melissa Rain Anderson, as Baby Rose)," "I Wish I Were in Love Again" (sung by Fitzgerald and Stone), "Imagine" and "You Are So Fair."
The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization confirmed that "Encores!," which produces concert stagings of classic, seldom-revived or neglected musicals, would be using the original script and score, not the revised stock and amateur script (which interpolates "You're Nearer"). Both versions are available to producers.
The "Encores!" Babes in Arms now includes a lyrically-revised version of a song called "All Dark People," now listed as "Light On Our Feet," performed by African American dancers Irby-Ranniar (as Irving DeQuincey) and Williams (as brother Ivor DeQuincey). That song, originated by Harold and Fayard Nicholas, has the line "all dark people is light on their feet," and was not included in the definitive studio cast recording conducted by Evans Haile.
Performances are at City Center, 55th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. Tickets are $25-$55. A post-performance discussion follows the Feb. 13 matinee. For ticket information, call (212) 581-1212.
Babes in Arms will be followed by concert revivals of The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 and the Jule Styne-Betty Comden-Adolph Green musical, Do Re Mi.
The popular series at City Center in New York City revisits neglected or seldom-revived musical theatre scores and scripts in a conceptual concert form, often with big-name stage talent. The current Broadway revival of Chicago began as an "Encores!" presentation.
The 1997 slate included Strike Up the Band, Li'l Abner and Vanessa Williams in St. Louis Woman.
The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 featured music by Vernon Duke and lyrics by Ira Gershwin ("I Can't Get Started") and sets and costumes by Vincente Minnelli. It marked the Broadway debut of choreographer George Balanchine (his On Your Toes came later that year), and originally starred Josephine Baker, Fanny Brice, Bob Hope, Judy Canova, Eve Arden and others.
"Encores!" will offer it March 25-29. The final performance coincides with the annual City Center gala benefit, but show-only tickets are available.
Do Re Mi from 1960 introduced "Make Someone Happy" to the world, sung by John Reardon and Nancy Dussault, who played sub-plot lovers in the show business satire (about the record industry). Stars Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker played a low-rung showbiz schlemiel and his long suffering wife.
Also in the score are "I Know About Love," "Fireworks" and "Adventure," a tour-de-force for Walker. In one number, a classic Comden-Green nightclub scene, Dussault was dressed as an animal, singing, "What's New At the Zoo."
"Encores!" will present Do Re Mi May 6-9.
-- By Kenneth Jones