Saturday, March 22, 2014

Musicals Tonight! Stages Revival of For Goodness Sake at The Lion Theatre

For Goodness Sake, written by Fred Jackson with lyrics by Arthur Jackson, music by William Daly and Paul Lannin, and with merely “additional” music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, was first produced on Broadway in 1922.  Starring Fred and Adele Astaire, it didn’t make much of a splash, closing after only 122 performances.  But then, re-staged in London a year later as Stop Flirting, with additional Gershwin songs and a revised story line (but still featuring Fred and Adele Astaire), it proved to be considerably more successful, running there for more than a year.

And it hasn’t been seen here since.  Until now.

Musicals Tonight!, which takes as its mission the resurrection of long-forgotten musicals, is currently staging a revival this period piece as For Goodness Sake by George and Ira Gershwin, at The Lion Theatre at Theatre Row on West 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan.  This production marks Musicals Tonight!’s 79th revival – others of which have included Girl Crazy, Lady Be Good, Meet Me in St. Louis, Irma la Douce, Paint Your Wagon, and Milk and Honey.  To be sure, many of those 79 musicals were well worth reviving but some were not and, sad to say, For Goodness Sake falls into that latter category.

For Goodness Sake has a hackneyed and dated story line, providing no real surprises.  The dialogue is flat and the first act especially tedious.  And of all its musical numbers, there is only one, I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise, that really is up to the Gershwins’ standard.  Indeed, the rest of the score is so disappointing that that one tune is performed four times, as if to distract from everything else.

This production of For Goodness Sake is set at the Bourne Lodge where Vivianne (Amber Guest) who, despite being deeply in love with and engaged to marry Perry (Brandon Andrus), persists in extensive and innocent flirtations with an array of other men, much to the consternation of her fiance.  Perry enlists the aid of his friend Geoff (Nathan L. Freeman) to help him determine whether Vivianne truly loves him and to dissuade her from her flirtations but Geoff demands a quid pro quo: he will assist Perry if Perry will sanction his marriage to Marjory (Natalie Beck), Perry’s ward and Vivianne’s former classmate.  The two men agree and concoct a plot whereby Perry fakes his death in a phony airplane crash on a trans-Atlantic flight piloted by his friend Bobby (Matt Demont); their hope is that, when Vivianne hears of Perry’s death and then learns that he is alive after all, she will return to her senses, realize how much she loves him, and abandon her flirtations.

Of course, events fail to develop quite as planned.  Vivianne learns of the ruse and turns the tables on Perry.  But since Perry and Vivianne are truly in love, as are Marjory and Geoff, everything works out predictably well in the end and all the players can take turns singing I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise and other more forgettable tunes.  Finally, even the musical’s third romantic coupling – that between Teddy (Sean Bell) and Suzanne (Sarah Rolleston) – is brought to successful fruition.  And the fortune hunter, Count Spinagio (Jason Simon), finally gets his come-uppance.

The musical itself isn’t much but that is not to say that the Musicals Tonight! company doesn’t do a wonderful job with the limited material at its disposal for, indeed, they do.  The entire cast deserves credit for their performances but, in particular, I would single out Amber Guest, who has a terrific voice and uses it to full advantage; Sean Bell, who has a tough act to follow as Teddy (since that’s the role that was originally played by the iconic Fred Astaire), but who pulls it off with exceptional charm and grace; and Jason Simon, who provides delightful Falstaffian comic relief as Count Spinagio. 

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