The gang of vaudeville orphans singing the hit score of Rodgers and Hart’s Babes in Arms, presented Feb. 11-14 by “Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert,” will include A Chorus Line veterans Donna McKechnie and Priscilla Lopez.
McKechnie and Don 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 Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine) play the parents of Val’s pal, Marshall (yet to be cast). Val's love interest, Billie, is yet to be cast.
It’s Val and new-girl-in-town Billie 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.
The more youthful part of the company includes Melissa Rain Anderson, Matthew Ballinger, Kevin Cahoon (The Lion King, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Christopher Fitzgerald (Corpus Christi), dancers Scott Irby-Ranniar and Cartier Anthony Williams, Shaun Powell (A Flea in Her Ear) and Jessica Stone (How to Succeed...). Most are 30 or younger.
The original 289-performance production 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 folks are performing with the Federal Theatre Project). Richard Riehle plays the local sheriff in the “Encores!” production.
The musical comedy will be directed and choreographed by “Encores!” artistic director Kathleen Marshall and music-directed by Rob Fisher.
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”) that has circulated. Both versions are available to producers.
“Encores!” will include some kind of version of a song called “All Dark People,” now listed as “Light On Our Feet,” performed by 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 has been excised from one licensed version of the show and is not heard on the Evans Haile studio recording.
Performances are at City Center. 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.
Babes in Arms, from 1937, is loaded with songs that became standards over the years, but it's generally considered unrevivable in its original form, with a creaky book by Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.
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