WHAT “The New Yorkers”
WHERE New York City Center, 131 W. 55th St.
INFO $35-$125; 212-581-1212; nycitycenter.org
BOTTOM LINE Cole Porter’s lost racy frolic, pleasantly revived.
Cole Porter wrote a lark of a racy musical called “The New Yorkers” to cheer people up during the financial panic of 1930. Three days later, the Bank of the United States failed. Twenty weeks later, so did the show.
Until the musical archaeologists at the New York City Center Encores! series did their fine work on what remains of the show, practically the only things anyone remembered about it were the songs “Love for Sale” (banned on the radio for its sympathy for prostitutes) and the lovable “I Happen to Like New York.” Also, this is where that snappy line about Park Avenue — a place where “bad women walk good dogs” — was born.
The “New Yorkers” that has emerged for just this weekend is not meant to be one of the series’ immaculately reconstructed reclamations. Given the unforced spirit of director John Rando’s frolic and the preposterous vaudeville numbers interrupting what exists of a story, authenticity is hardly a concern here.
What we have are 14 songs from the original score and something of a book, originally by Herbert Fields, about adventurous society dames and bootleggers who shoot gangsters who won’t stay dead. Music director Rob Berman is wearing formal tails to conduct the generous, brass-driven orchestra through music that sounds true to the period. Swags of silvery drapes embrace the stage.
The large, pleasant cast includes Scarlett Strallen as the blue blood who falls for the mob boss (Tam Mutu), and Ruth Williamson and Byron Jennings as her parents, who run around with much younger floozies (Robyn Hurder) and hunks (Tyler Lansing Weaks). Nobody minds when the arm candy runs off with anyone else, even to do a song under the covers.
The importance, besides the surprise of such casual debauchery in 1930, is the music. Some songs are ridiculous, especially ones for the varsity glee club and “Wood,” originally written and performed by Jimmy Durante and admirably presented without embarrassment by Kevin Chamberlin. Highlights are Arnie Burton, as the gangster called Feet, delivering a virtuosic patter to “Let’s Not Talk About Love,” and jazz singer Cyrille Aimee scatting to “Let’s Fly Away.”
Mostly, we can revel in the cleverness of Porter’s lyrics: “Don’t say it with music, it’s early Irving Berlin . . . say it with gin,” and “I’m glad I own a comfortable kimono.”
According to artistic director Jack Viertel’s essay in the program, one function of the show was to help brand a five-year-old magazine called The New Yorker. Guess that part worked.