Monday, February 11, 2008

All Hail Christine

Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Lee Adams
Book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Directed by Kathleen Marshall
Conducted by Rob Berman
Starring Christine Ebersole, Kate Burton, Mario Cantone, Erin Davie, Tom Hewitt, Michael Park, Megan Sikora, Chip Zien

Performances February 7-10, 2008
New York City Center
131 West 55th Street

The morphing of the 1950 Oscar-winning classic All About Eve into the 1970 Tony-winning musical Applause was problematic, as proven by the recent Encores production – the musical's first New York appearance since the original, with Lauren Bacall, ran for over two years.

The central plot of the film, and the original story by Mary Orr upon which it was based, is intact: Eminent theater actress Margo Channing is introduced to young, starstruck fan Eve Harrington, who becomes Margo’s assistant, confidante, and understudy, only to finally replace her at the top of the theater world. Joseph Mankiewicz’s sublimely bitchy script included some of the most scathingly witty lines in movie history, and Adolph Green and Betty Comden smartly lifted several for inclusion in their book of the musical. Charles Strouse's songs are tuneful, but only some of them are memorable, and Lee Adams’ lyrics alternate between clever and merely serviceable.

At City Center, Kathleen Marshall’s generally fine staging was without any particularly distinctive touches, other than the stillborn idea to transform the title number's mini-spoofs of other shows into a long-winded homage to various other, mostly better musicals that have been presented as part of the Encores! series. On the plus side, the number was danced with precision and excitement by a top-notch ensemble. Rob Berman led the orchestra in an energetic reading of Strouse’s polished music.

As Margo, Christine Ebersole easily ran away with the show. She doesn’t have Bacall’s vampiness or Bette Davis’s bitchiness, but her perfect comic timing paid off as she zinged the barbs Margo is known for, sang the songs with gusto (especially the stirring Act I closer, “Welcome to the Theater”), and danced up a storm in “Being Alive,” an amusing number set in a gay bar. The supporting cast was so-so: Mario Cantone was funny but too campy as Margo’s loyal hairdresser, and Erin Davie, though in splendid voice, lacked the electric spark that set off Anne Baxter’s performance in All About Eve.

After her legendary performance in Grey Gardens, Broadway needs Christine Ebersole back soon. Even if there are better vehicles for her, Applause would do in a pinch.

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