Only a true musical theater devotee knows that there is no original cast album of Frank Loesser’s first Broadway musical “Where’s Charley?,” a 1948 adaptation of the popular farce “Charley’s Aunt” about a pair of college boys who impersonate one of their aunts so that a pair of nice gals will agree to spend the day with them – safely chaperoned and all.
Considering the unrivalled excellence of Loesser’s musical comedy masterworks “Guys and Dolls” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” a City Center Encores! production of “Where’s Charley?” has been long overdue. So with the Broadway revival of “How to Succeed…” now in previews just blocks away, it seems especially appropriate for Encores! to now finish its season with “Where’s Charley?”
Upon closer inspection, it is clear that “Where’s Charley?” does not belong in the same league of “Guys and Dolls.” There isn’t much of a plot, and many of its songs are forgettable, sappy love ballads that are padded with endless dance breaks.
But it remains a cute show with much physical comedy and a handful of good songs that display Loesser’s genius. In addition to the perennial favorite “Once in Love with Amy,” “Make a Miracle,” a duet for Charley and his gal pal, is terrifically funny and romantic.
John Doyle, who is best known for his unconventional actor-musician stagings of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” and “Company,” would appear to be an odd, perhaps even inappropriate, choice for this lowbrow farce. He has nevertheless provided a simple, charming and truly enjoyable staging of this rarely seen musical with a mostly young and unknown cast.
Robert McClure, a replacement cast member of “Avenue Q,” is delightfully silly as Charley, the role originated by Ray Bolger, and handles the physical demands of cross-dressing with aplomb. He is also a hoot during the show’s classic song “Once in Love with Amy,” conducting a soft shoe dance and leading a sing-a-long reprise with the audience. McClure is joined by Lauren Worsham, Jill Paice and Sebastian Arcelus. The adult roles are handled gracefully by Broadway veterans Howard McGillin and Rebecca Luker.
If you go: “Where’s Charley?” plays at City Center through Sunday, March 20.