High Button Shoes Opens Aug. 8 at Goodspeed; "New" Styne-Cahn Song Added

By Kenneth Jones
08 Aug 2007

Stephen Bienskie in High Button Shoes.
Stephen Bienskie in High Button Shoes.
Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn's tuneful, New Jersey-set High Button Shoes opens in a revised revival Aug. 8 at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT.

The Goodspeed Musicals staging of the 1947 musical comedy began July 13 under the direction of Greg Ganakas (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers). The song list includes "Papa Won't You Dance With Me," "I Still Get Jealous," "On a Sunday by the Sea" and "You're My Girl."

One musical number has been added to the show: "First-Class Number One Bum," cut from lyricist Cahn and composer Styne's 1970 flop, Look to the Lilies. The Styne estate gave Ganakas permission to use it.

The new production features Stephen Bienskie, Ken Jennings, William Parry, Brian Hissong and Jennifer Allen. The run continues to Sept. 22. Linda Goodrich choreographs.

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With music by Styne, lyrics by Cahn and book by Stephen Longstreet (based on his novel), the musical is set in the Model T era, "with bathing beauties and fraternity brothers, Keystone Kops chasing madcap robbers and even a dancing gorilla," according to Goodspeed, which is devoted to musical theatre heritage (as well as new works). "This lively and lovable musical will leave you laughing as a fast talking con-man [played by Bienskie] returns to his old hometown in hopes of striking it rich."

High Button Shoes is based on the novel "The Sisters Liked Them Handsome" by Stephen Longstreet. The musical premiered on Broadway on Oct. 9, 1947, at the New Century Theatre, where it ran for 727 performances. A signature sequence in the show was Jerome Robbins' "Keystone Kops Ballet" (reproduced many years later in Jerome Robbins' Broadway). Robbins won the 1948 Tony for Best Choreography for his work on the show.

The original cast boasted Phil Silvers, Nanette Fabray and Mark Dawson.

"Set in 1913, the musical follows con artist Harrison Floy back to his hometown of New Brunswick, NJ, his latest hideaway after being run out of every other town he's set foot in," according to Goodspeed notes. "The honest folks of New Brunswick welcome the flimflam man home with open arms. There he bamboozles Mr. and Mrs. Longstreet out of some money by running a shady property development deal. Once discovered, the wacky chase to catch Floy brings everyone to Atlantic City before the con-man loses all on a football game. With catchy songs and riotous laughter, folks of all ages will enjoy this breezy summer classic."

Russell Arden Koplin will make her Goodspeed debut in the role of Fran. Her Broadway credits include James Joyce's The Dead and as Eponine in Les MisÚrables.

The members of the ensemble are Tommy Berklund, Keith Coughlin, Danny Gardner, Eric Giancola, Susan Grady, Sara Hart, David Hull, Cheryl McMahon, Hallie Metcalf, Mahri Relin, Dorothy Stanley, Drew Taylor and swings Chet Crocco, Colby Q. Linderman and Dani Speiler.

Bienskie, playing con-man Harrison Floy, has performed on Broadway in Chess, and as Rum Tum Tugger in Cats, and regionally in the U.S. premiere of The Fix.

Broadway veteran Ken Jennings (Sweeney Todd, Urinetown) plays bungling sidekick Pontdue. The actor was last seen in Goodspeed Musicals' Fanny Hill at The Norma Terris Theatre in Chester.

Brian Hissong, who plays the young sport Oggle, was last seen as Gideon in Goodspeed Musicals' Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Jennifer Allen plays Mama. She has performed on Broadway in Little Me and Guys and Dolls.

Stevie is portrayed by Emmett Rahn-Oakes.

William Parry plays Papa, is part of the choice duet, "I Still Get Jealous." He appeared in Goodspeed's Norma Terris Theatre production of The Gig in 1995. His Broadway credits include the original productions of Sunday in the Park with George, the Tony award-winning Passion, and the Bernadette Peters revival of Gypsy, among others.

The High Button Shoes creative team includes scenic designer Howard C. Jones, costume designer Gregory Gale, lighting designer Kirk Bookman and music director Michael O'Flaherty. William J. Thomas will be assistant music director. Orchestrations are by Dan DeLange.

High Button Shoes is produced for Goodspeed Musicals by Michael P. Price.

For more information, visit www.goodspeed.org.