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A CurtainUp Review
Stairway to Paradise
An original Encores! production

I wish some day
I could find my way
To the land where the good songs go

— Jerome Kern's song for Miss 1917 and the opening number for the Encores! review of revues, Stairway to Paradise.
Christopher Fitzgerald, Kevin Chamberlin & Kristin Chenoweth
Christopher Fitzgerald, Kevin Chamberlin & Kristin Chenoweth (Photo: Joan Marcus)
There's surely a special place in that "land where all the good songs go" for the songs that began life in the musical revues that had their heyday for much of the first half of the twentieth century. More sophisticated fare and television spelled the end of those mostly silly, plotless, glittery extravaganzas. Most of the comedy sketches that were part and parcel of these light-hearted entertainments were tied to current events so they stopped being funny as fast as yesterday's bread goes stale. But these shows were a showcase for top creative and performing talent and seeded many enduring standards and less familiar songs catchy enough to be enjoyed by post-revue born audiences. With proper staging, casting and organization, even some of those old comic sketches could once again make us chuckle.

If anyone can make a whole evening of revue excerpts sparkle, it's Jack Viertel and his Encores! colleagues. And that's exactly what they've done with their first original production. The six-performance amalgam of musical numbers features operetta-ish trills, torchy ballads, high-stepping tap and marching songs as well brief skits (with a few more fully staged mini-comedies like "The Gorilla Girl " from Walter and Jean Kerr's Touch and Go. There are enough breezy selections to make you want to hum along.

As for the cast, it simply couldn't be better with Miss Adorable herself, Kristen Chenoweth, leading the way to display her amazing singing and comic range and make this a night of a thousand costumes — at least so it seemed as she switched from slinky black, to fiery red, to sophisticated beige gowns and also dressed up for routines like the hilarious "Triplets" number originally written for something called Between the Devil by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz. Her chief co-clowns are the terrific, Kevin Chamberlin (why don't we see more of this wonderful performer?) and Christopher Fitzgerald. Besides being sublimely funny, both these performers are marvelous song and dance men. (They've also done well in serious roles.)

What makes this review of revues work is not just the excellent choices but the way they've been arranged so that, without any commentary and some well chosen props, they move from the twentieth century's teens to the early fifties. And so what could easily be a mish-mash of unconnected revue pieces is a fifty-year musical history of American mores and tastes.

The staging is, as usual, slick and polished. The Encores! orchestra and Jonathan Tunick's orchestrations are typically topnotch. Unlike most Encores! production, this one has only a few ensemble numbers with scripts in hand.

While Chenoweth, Chamberlin and Fitzgerald are definitely the stars of this production, Ruthie Henshall is jusst right as the show's torch singer and Capathia Jenkins has several stand-out numbers. A lesser known show stopper, tap wizard Kendrick Jones, surely has Bill Robinson smiling down and applauding from the great beyond.

Check out the complete list of numbers and performers below for an idea of what to expect if you can snag a ticket for one of the remaining performances.

Guest Music Director: Rob Berman
Director: Jerry Zaks
Choreographer : Warren Carlyle
Cast: Kristin Chenoweth/ Female Star; Kevin  Chamberlin /Comic #1;        Christopher  Fitzgerald/ Comic #2;     Shonn Wiley/   The Boy;Jenn Gambatese /  The Girl; Ruthie Henshall/ The Sophisticated Woman; Capathia Jenkins/ The African American Woman;      Kendrick Jones/   Dance Soloist Tapper;  J. Mark McVey /  The Tenor; Michael Gruber/Joe; Holly Cruikshank /Pas de Deux Specialty  
Ensemble: Timothy J. Alex, Robin Campbell, Erin Crouch,  Susan Derry,  Lianne Marie Dobbs, Emily Fletcher, Bob Gaynor, Laura Griffith, Dale Hensley, Renee Klapmeyer, Barrett Martin, Sean McKnight, James Patterson, Eric Santagata, Kiira Schmidt, Dennis Stowe, Sarrah Strimel, Kevin Vortmann, J.D. Webster, Teal Wicks.        
Scenic Consultant:  John Lee Beatty Costume Coordinator:     William Ivey Long Lighting Designer:       Paul Gallo Sound: Tom  Morse  
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes including one intermission
Encores at City Center
6 performances from May 10 to 14, 2007

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer, on May 10th >
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture /The Orchestra
  • The Land Where the Good Songs Go /J. Mark McVey and Ensemble from MISS 1917 (1917) Music by Jerome Kern Lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Everything in America is Ragtime Jenn Gambatese, Shonn Wiley, and Ensemble from STOP! LOOK! LISTEN! (1915) Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
  • The Maiden With the Dreamy Eyes Kevin Chamberlin and Christopher Fitzgerald from THE LITTLE DUCHESS (1901) Music by Bob Cole Lyrics by J.W. Johnson
  • If I Were on the Stage (Kiss Me Again) Kristin Chenoweth from MLLE. MODISTE (1905); later interpolated into MISS 1917 (1917) Music by Victor Herbert Lyrics by Henry Blossom Orchestration by Victor Herbert
  • Oh! How / Hate to Get Up in the Morning Christopher Fitzgerald and Men from YIP, YIP, YAPHANK (1918) Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
  • THE YELLOW PERIL from KEEP KOOL (1924) Written by Paul Gerard Smith
  • Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil Capathia Jenkins, Kristin Chenoweth, and Ensemble from THE MUSIC BOX REVUE (1922) Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
  • Manhattan/Mountain Greenery Jenn Gambatese, Shonn Wiley, and Michael Gruber from GARRICK GAIETIES (1925 and 1926) Music by Richard Rodgers Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
  • I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan Michael Gruber from THE LITTLE SHOW (1929) Music by Arthur Schwartz Lyrics by Howard Dietz
  • Memories of You Ruthie Henshall from LEW LESLIE'S BLACKBIRDS (1930) Music by Eubie Blake Lyrics by Andy Razaf
  • I Know Darn Well I Can Do Without Broadway Kristin Chenoweth, Kevin Chamberlin, and Christopher Fitzgerald from SHOW GIRL (1929) Music and Lyrics by Jimmy Durante
  • I'm an Indian Kristin Chenoweth from THE ZIEGFELD FOLLIES OF 1920 (1920) Music by Leo Edwards Lyrics by Blanche Merrill
  • Get Yourself a Geisha Christopher Fitzgerald from AT HOME ABROAD (1935) Music by Arthur Schwartz Lyrics by Howard Dietz
  • Doin' the New Low-Down Kendrick Jones from BLACKBIRDS OF 1928 (1928) Music by Jimmy McHugh Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
  • My Handy Man Ain't Handy No More .Capathia Jenkins from LEW LESLIE'S BLACKBIRDS (1930) Music by Eubie Blake Lyrics by Andy Razaf
  • I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise Michael Gruber and Ensemble from GEORGE WHITE'S SCANDALS (1922) Music by George Gershwin Lyrics by Ira Gershwin and B.G. DeSylva
  • Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? Kevin Chamberlin from AMERICANA (1932) Music by Jay Gorney Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
  • Dancing in the Dark Kristin Chenoweth with Holly Cruikshank, Barrett Martin, and Ensemble from THE BANDWAGON (1931) Music by Arthur Schwartz Lyrics by Howard Dietz
Act Two
  • Entr'acte The Orchestra
  • F.D.R. Jones J.D. Webster, Capathia Jenkins and Ensemble from SING OUT THE NEWS (1938) Music and Lyrics by Harold Rome
  • Supper Time Capathia Jenkins from AS THOUSANDS CHEER (1933) Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
  • Reprise: The Land Where the Good Songs Go J. Mark McVey
  • Sing Me a Song With Social Significance Kristin Chenoweth with Emily Fletcher and Renee Klapmeyer from PINS AND NEEDLES (1937) Music and Lyrics by Harold Rome
  • Josephine Please No Lean on the Bell Christopher Fitzgerald Music and Lyrics by Ed G. Nelson, Harry Pease, and Duke Leonard
  • Rhode Island Is Famous for You Shonn Wiley and Jenn Gambatese from INSIDE U.S.A (1948) Music by Arthur Schwartz Lyrics by Howard Dietz
  • Triplets Kristin Chenoweth, Kevin Chamberlin, and Christopher Fitzgerald Originally written for FLYING COLORS (1932), cut out of town; introduced in BETWEEN THE DEVIL (1937) Music by Arthur Schwartz Lyrics by Howard Dietz Orchestration by E.B. Powell
  • GORILLA GIRL from TOUCH AND GO (1949) Written by Walter and Jean Kerr This is the Army, Mr. Jones Kevin Chamberlin and Men
  • I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen Christopher Fitzgerald and Men from THIS IS THE ARMY (1942) Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
  • Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye Ruthie Henshall from SEVEN LIVELY ARTS (1944) Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
  • Going Home Train Kendrick Jones and Men Call Me Mister Michael Gruber, Shonn Wiley, and Ensemble from CALL ME MISTER (1946) Music and Lyrics by Harold Rome
  • Guess Who I Saw Today Kristin Chenoweth from LEONARD SILLMAN'S NEW FACES OF 1952 (1952) Music and Lyrics by Murray Grand and Elisse Boyd
  • Catch Our Act at the Met Kristin Chenoweth and Kevin Chamberlin, Christopher Fitzgerald, Capathia Jenkins, and Ensemble from TWO ON THE AISLE (1951) Music by Jule Styne Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph
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