Christian Borle Displays Big Talent in Encores! Little Me

By Steven Suskin
06 Feb 2014

Rachel York and Christian Borle
Photo by Joan Marcus

While splitting the star into the roles of six lovers and one younger man, Simon and cohorts divided the leading lady in two. Rachel York plays Young Belle, singing up a storm (especially in "Poor Little Hollywood Star" and the up-tempo version of "The Other Side of the Tracks") and holding her own against the scene-stealing Borle. Older Belle is essayed by multiple Tony-winner Judy Kaye, who provides the sly narration with a flair.

The funnymaking is enhanced by Lewis J. Stadlen and Lee Wilkof as Bernie and Bennie Buchsbaum, opportunistic vaudeville bookers; Robert Creighton, who serves as chief stooge to Borle and plays seven small roles; Harriet Harris, who, as Noble's mother generates grand laughter with relatively few lines; and Tony Yazbeck as Belle's other lover, George Musgrove. Yazbeck gets the one knockout song-and-dance, "I've Got Your Number," and he easily stops the show with it.

The score is explosively funny, with Coleman arguably at his brightest and happiest. Leigh dazzles us repeatedly, peppering her lyrics with crackerjack jokes in "I Love You (As Much As I Am Able)," "Deep Down Inside," "Be a Performer!," "Goodbye" and others. Personality issues on the show, alas, short circuited her career; when Little Me's choreographer/codirector Bob Fosse reunited with Coleman and Simon for Sweet Charity, Leigh was purposely excluded and replaced with the equally talented but more personable Dorothy Fields. Encores! most happily restores the long-unheard orchestrations by Ralph Burns, which take off with a xylophone explosion and never let down. Music director Rob Berman seems almost gleeful on the podium, understandably so given the quality of Burns' work.

Director John Rando, who burst on the scene in 2001 with Urinetown and more recently has given us such delights as A Christmas Story and the Encores! productions of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and It's A Bird… It's A Plane… It's Superman, keeps the show breezing along despite its length. (Given Caesar's prominence at the time, one imagines that he demanded inclusion of some bits that now seem expendable.) Josh Bergasse choreographs, paying homage to Fosse by borrowing some staging for "The Rich Kid's Rag," which remains one of the evening's highlights. Bergasse does a charming job with the wounded doughboy's rendition of "Real Live Girl," a softshoe with puttees on crutches.

Little Me plays seven performances, with double-show days Feb. 8-9. The season continues with two likely treats, Frank Loesser's masterpiece The Most Happy Fella in April and Marguerite Monnot's Gallic treat Irma La Douce in May.