The cascades of laughter booming (or, more accurately, "boom booming") along West 55th St., which began Feb. 5 and will continue through through Feb. 9., emanate from the stately confines of City Center, where Christian Borle and a band of merrymakers has taken up residence with the brashly satiric musical comedy Little Me.
This 1962 musical which opens the 2014 season at Encores! was built to order around the talents of 1950s television king Sid Caesar, with the book coming from a Caesarian TV writer named Neil Simon (who wasn't to become Broadway's gold-plated playwright until 11 months later, with Barefoot in the Park). The score came from the up-and-coming team of Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, who in a brief period of time had turned out two jazz classics ("The Best Is Yet to Come" and "Witchcraft") and the enduring "Hey, Look Me Over!" from their first, failed musical, Wildcat.
What they came up with is one of Broadway's funniest musicals ever, albeit with some built-in problems that caused the show to fail initially and on the occasion of significantly doctored Broadway revivals in 1982 and 1998. Here, restored to its original form, we can see that Little Me at its best offers fast and furious comic fun mixed with an overabundantly tuneful score and a set of the sharpest comedy lyrics ever. And it's at its best at Encores!, where it was greeted last night by waves of laughter.
Little Me — based on a spoof autobiography of a fictional Hollywood bombshell written by Patrick Dennis, of "Auntie Mame" fame — tells of the rise of Belle Poitrine as she accumulates wealth, culture and social position via a succession of wealthy men to whom she brings happiness (although they end up dead, too). Simon's conceit was to build the show not around Belle but around the lovers, making it a vehicle for King of Comedy Caesar as the star plowed through seven roles, occasionally two within the same scene.
Borle, a Broadway favorite for roles in Spamalot, Legally Blonde and his Tony Award-winning romp in Peter and the Starcatcher, is a natural for Little Me. He breezes through the show (and his many costumes) with aplomb, milking warm and friendly laughter throughout. Borle is brilliantly funny here, especially as the aristocratic scion Noble Eggleston, the Chevalier knock-off Val du Val and the Graustarkian Prince Cherny of Rosenzweig. (Given that he is playing roles of different ages and nationalities while singing five songs under the limited-time rehearsal constraints of Encores!, Borle still has not had the opportunity to fully mine all of his characters.)
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