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Theater review: Bells are Ringing

Kelli O'Hara

Kelli O'Hara Photo Credit: Handout

Bells Are Ringing

3.5 Stars

The classic 1950s musical comedy “Bells Are Ringing” did not fare well critically or commercially when it was revived in 2001 with Faith Prince. In spite of sporting timeless standards such as “Just in Time,” “Long Before I Knew You” and “A Perfect Relationship,” it’s a dated Judy Holliday vehicle that is a bit too silly for its own good.

But as an elaborate Encores! concert directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall (“The Pajama Game,” “Grease”), “Bells Are Ringing” was perfectly at home at City Center this weekend. It allowed musical theater enthusiasts to unapologetically enjoy its golden score, as played by a full-sized orchestra, the golden optimism of this Cinderella tale, and the comedy of its zany story.

The plot follows Ella Peterson, a telephone receptionist who works for an answering service and wears her heart on her sleeve. She tries to make the world a better place by helping her customers out with their individual needs, but finds herself in hot water when she develops feelings for one of her customers – even without ever meeting him in person. Plus, a police investigator is convinced that her cousin’s phone answering company is a front for a prostitution ring.

Kelli O’Hara, who most recently won acclaim on Broadway as Nellie in “South Pacific,” was a surprise pick for Ella Peterson, a role usually cast with a comedienne. She might not have nailed every laugh or effortlessly handled the multitude of funny voices required throughout the role, but she was vocally perfect and touchingly approached the character with complete romantic sincerity.

Will Chase, who is known mostly for rock musicals (and countless flops), was likewise an unlikely casting choice for hotshot playwright Jeffrey Moss. Still, he fared well and showed that he can handle the style of a classic musical comedy.

Rounding out the character roles were Judy Kaye, Bobby Cannavale, Brad Oscar and Dylan Baker, alongside an excellent ensemble. Watching most of them as they gleefully smiled and convened in the subway train in “Hello, Hello There!” was a wonderfully joyful moment, as were numerous others throughout this excellent concert production.

City Center, 130 W. 55th St., 212-581-1212. Nov. 18-21.


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