Beth Leavel, Michael McGrath, Brooks Ashmanskas, Jennifer Cody Are Cut-Ups in Sugar Babies Readings Sept. 20

By Kenneth Jones
20 Sep 2012

Beth Leavel
Beth Leavel

Sugar Babies, the burlesque musical-comedy revue that earned a 1980 Tony Award nomination as Best Musical, has been revived in Manhattan workshop rehearsals leading to two industry presentations on Sept. 20. Expect legs and "laffs." Tony winners Beth Leavel (The Drowsy Chaperone) and Michael McGrath (Nice Work If You Can Get It) are in the troupe, along with Brooks Ashmanskas, Jennifer Cody and more.

Richard Sabellico, who has directed the naughtily tuneful show in regional theatres (including a 1987 staging with McGrath), directs the new Broadway-aimed staging. Denis Jones (associate choreographer of Legally Blonde the Musical and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) choreographs.

McGrath, the respected character actor of Spamalot and Memphis, plays the Top Banana opposite Leavel (Elf, Baby It's You! and 42nd Street) as the Leading Lady. Both performers have never been shy about offering larger-than-life performances — nor have Cody and Ashmanskas.

Sugar Babies, with a setting called the Gaiety Burlesque, revived classic vaudeville-era sketches (a sexy woman is put on trial for shooting her man — you get the picture) and used hit songs by Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields, Al Dubin, Ted Koehler and others. It first starred Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller (who were nominated for Tonys for their turns) in a run that began in October 1979 and ran 1,208 performances.



Ralph G. Allen and Harry Rigby conceived the show, drawing from traditional theatrical sketches and songs. Arthur Malvin was nominated for the Best Score Tony, penning a handful of numbers ("The Sugar Baby Bounce") interspersed with classics ("I'm Shooting High," "I Feel a Song Comin' On").

The industry presentation features ten dancing girls (the show aims directly at the tired, straight businessman, Sabellico said), plus a Second Banana (Ashmanskas, of Promises, Promises), a Soubrette (Cody, of Urinetown), a Straight Man (Richard Bell), a Tenor (Jack Doyle) and a "Candy Butcher" (Marty Passante). The company includes Kelley Bradshaw, Mary Callahan, Melissa Jones, Amanda Kloots-Larsen, Brittany Marcin, Beth Nicely, Abby O'Brien, Jillian Owens, Kristyn Pope, Kimber Stevenson, Scott Brateng, Barry Busby (who is assisant choreographer), Sean Quinn and Cliff Samuels. Stage manager is Randy Lawson. Adolpho Blaire is assistant director.

Sabellico (Off-Broadway's Home of the Brave, Goodspeed Musicals' Dear World) told Playbill.com that the show will feature material from the 1979 production (all of it vintage, from before 1950) plus additional traditional sketches that Allen had passed on to him. At the time of Allen's death, Sabellico was in discussion with the producer about creating a Sugar Babies 2.

Sabellico said that when young people are exposed to the material they howl at the refreshing innocence of it, the cleverness of the wordplay — and the revelation that "Saturday Night Live" and other TV variety shows have their roots in the tradition.

"Every time I direct it, it amazes me how the audience goes wild," Sabellico said. "[But] most people we approach haven't any idea what the show really is, so we are going to show them."

Costumes are by Wade LaBoissonniere. Musical direction is by Nick DeGregorio.

The Sept. 20 presentations are at 1 PM and 4:30 PM. For a reservation, industry members should email shootinghighproductions@gmail.com.