Saturday, September 28, 2013

Bless You All! A Broadway Revue Revived After 60 Years

Ruth Pferdehirt in BLESS YOU ALL! A BROADWAY REVUE.  Photo by Dixie Sherican
Bless You All!, A Broadway Revue with sketches by Arnold Auerbach and music and lyrics by Harold Rome, originally opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on Broadway to positive reviews in 1950 – but that still didn’t prevent it from closing after only 84 performances.  Now, after more than sixty years, UnsungMusicalsCo. (UMC), is staging the show’s first ever revival off off Broadway in a limited three-week engagement at The Connelly Theatre on East 4th Street in downtown New York – including in it some new sketch material by Herman Wouk.

This revival does have  a lot going for it.  Some of its jazzy tunes are quite delightful; the choreography is very impressive; and both the singing and the dancing are memorable.  I was especially impressed by the long-legged, balletic Jennifer Lee Crowl, by Ruth Pferdehirt’s terrific rendition of “Little Things” (which came close to being a show-stopper), and by Billie Wildrick’s powerful and touching “You Never Know What Hit You.”

But it wasn’t quite enough for me.  The show’s material was very uneven to begin with more than a half-century ago and, despite the valiant efforts of Ben West, UMC’s Artistic Director, to re-organize the show’s sketches, eliminating its weakest numbers and tacking on the Wouk skit, it remains a very uneven production to this day.  The comedy sketches, in particular – a send-up of the snooty 21 Club, a vaudevillean slapstick pie-in-the-face routine, a caricaturish mockery of presidential campaigning on television, and Wouk’s comedic depiction of a corrupt judge on the lam, to name just four – were sophomoric at best and failed Borscht Belt routines at worst.
So here’s my bottom line: if you’re into nostalgic reminiscence of Broadway revues of the 1940s and 1950s – including some fine song and dance – this revival of Bless You All!, A Broadway Revue might just do it for you.  But if your sights are set somewhat higher than that, you may find yourself more disappointed than delighted by this production.

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