by Ron Cohen · March 22, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #64 Ron Cohen looks at For Goodness Sake, presented by Musicals Tonight! now playing at the Lion Theatre through March 30
The big problem for the characters populating For Goodness Sake is how to make the vivacious Vivianne stop flirting. Her flirting is driving her fiancé Perry crazy. She’s also filled his palatial home with an entourage of giddy young things who love to party. Nevertheless, it’s the flirting that Perry is desperate to halt. In fact, when this 1922 Broadway musical played London, in a revamped version. it was called Stop Flirting. It also racked up over 400 performances in London, compared with just 103 in New York, and made the young fast-stepping brother-sister team of Fred and Adele Astaire -- portraying the secondary couple of Teddy and Suzanne -- the toasts of the town.
Now, the indefatigable Musicals Tonight! is offering musical theater devotees -- in its 79th show -- an opportunity to get a sampling of what this now obscure work was like nearly a century ago. This staged concert version -- staged with obviously more enthusiasm than budget -- makes for a diverting couple of hours (plus intermission) and the chance to hear in context some vintage tunes from the Gershwin brothers, George and Ira. It also provides a startling reminder of how far musical theater has traveled since the Roaring Twenties in achieving the depth and emotional pull of contemporary works from such as Stephen Sondheim, Michael John LaChiusa, Jason Robert Brown et al.
Don’t look for any psychological exploration of the flirting syndrome in For Goodness Sake. It’s all fun and games, and even after Perry fakes his death in the hope of quelling Vivianne’s proclivities, she is on to his game and the merriment continues. Most of the jokes and high jinks in the book by Fred Jackson have fairly well exceeded their shelf life, but the dedicated efforts of the youthful cast, under the guidance of director-choreographer Thomas Sabella-Mills, helped me digest them without too much discomfort. And certainly the songs, with admirable vocal arrangements reconstructed by musical director David B. Bishop, provoked some smiles. Bishop also supplies the off-stage piano accompaniment.
Among the most notable songs from the Gershwin catalog were the invigorating “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise’’ and the lilting “Tra-la-la,“ although it should be noted that B. G. DeSylva -- not Ira -- supplied the lyrics to “Paradise.” In all, five composers and five lyricist contributed to the score. There are jaunty novelty numbers and romantic ballads that exist in a territory somewhere between operetta and the pop style of the Twenties.
The 17-person cast, for the most part, affably captures the retro performance manner the material requires, although there are some prolonged passages of faded comedy when the strain shows. Especially effective, though, is the bottomless joie de vivre exhibited by Amber Guest as Vivianne. She also gets to show off some impressive opera-like high notes in a bravura number “All My Life” with music by Paul Lannin and words by Arthur Jackson. Brandon Andrus and Nathan L. Freeman are credible as the long-suffering Perry and his sympathetic pal. Geoff, as is Natalie Beck’s Marjory, the apple of Geoff’s eye. Jason Simon, portraying a fortune-hunting Italian count, gets to demonstrate some strong baritone vocalizing as well as the comic bits expected of a fortune-hunting Italian count.
In the Astaire roles of Teddy and Suzanne, Sean Bell and Sarah Rolleston exude more infectious freshness than polish, as they negotiate their duets and bits of rudimentary choreography. But that seems to be totally at home with the modus operandi of the entire show. It makes no pretension of discovering a lost gem, but it delivers an affectionate look back at the songs, dances and jokes that enchanted our theater-going forefathers.