Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
"Tallulah never bored anyone, and I consider that humanitarianism of a very high order indeed."
Such was author Anita Loos’ take on the famed Miss Bankhead.
But the remark could just as well have been applied to her own most famous creation: Lorelei Lee, the gold-digging Ziegfeld Follies dancer who was first presented in Loos’ beloved novel "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."
Whether Lorelei is asking for a ticket on a liner to "Europe, France," singing a serenade to the sublime appeal of diamonds or explaining her reasons for shooting and killing a former employer, she is never dull.
The trick, though, is to make her real. And to make the audience care about her is to act the part without condescension, whether conscious or unconscious. In this, Broadway vet Megan Hilty did not entirely succeed in an otherwise delicious presentation of Jule Styne’s musical adaptation of the novel, which City Center’s Encores ran for four performances last week.
The part of Lorelei has been incarnated almost as many times as Hamlet, it seems.
Consider that before there was a musical version, there was a comic strip version. Then there was a silent film that is now lost, and then the 1949 musical that starred a very young Carol Channing. After this came the 1953 movie with Marilyn Monroe. And the musical has already had two Broadway revivals.
Like nearly every production of the superlative Encores team, this production had a crackerjack cast. Playing the role of Dorothy Shaw (the Jane Russell part in the movie) was an enchanting Rachel York. Complementing her were such wonderful talents as the dynamite dance couple of Megan Sikora and Luke Hawkins, Deborah Rush as a rich but crapulent Philadelphia matron, Simon Jones as a lecherous British aristocrat and Aaron Lazar as York’s naïve suitor.
The orchestra was (as always) terrific, the ensemble did not contain a single weak voice, and the show was cut and arranged so that it sped by with a maximum of music and dance and a minimum of exposition.
Moreover, the voluptuous Hilty -- who is now playing an actress playing Monroe on TV’s "Smash" -- got almost every laugh given to her in the script, which was artfully tweaked and punched up by playwright David Ives.
So why did I find Hilty’s performance less than satisfying, her delicately formed retroussé nose, blonde wig and heaving and abundant embonpoint notwithstanding?
I think it was that Hilty always seemed to be playing an idiot savant, a woman with no book learning but a certain innate canniness. Channing and Monroe made you believe that they really were that woman, and that her travails meant something.
There’s rather a difference, I think.
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" ran through May 13 at New York City Center, 55th Street between Sixth and Seventh Aves. For more info, visit www.NYCityCenter.org.