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A CurtainUp Review

The Show Goes On

Imagine that you've been invited to a party at which a handful of talented guests have agreed to entertain. Now imagine that the guests of honor are lyricist/librettist Tom Jones and composer Harvey Schmidt collaborators on that Off-Broadway landmark, The Fantasticks , Broadway hits like I Do! I Do and 110 In the Shade . Add to this picture a piano, three talented singers (JoAnn Cunningham, Emma Lampert and J. Mark McVey) and you can understand by The York Theatre Company's production of The Show Goes On at the Theatre at St. Peter's Church is likely to be the next best thing to going to such a party.

Mr. Jones is a delightful master of ceremonies. His chronicle of the forty-year musical theater adventure he and Mr. Schmidt have shared is a delectable songfest expertly punctuated with anecdotes about the evolution of those songs and the shows for which they were written. His unfailing and often self-deprecating humor is enchanting and this portfolio of their song history enlightening as well as enjoyable.

Mr. Schmidt serving as the one man band accompanies Jones and the three singers on a small grand piano. That piano is the centerpiece of a simple but effective set by James Morgan) --some steps, a raised platform, the requisite revue stool and banners emblazoned with the names of Jones and Schmidt shows mounted on poles. No smoke and mirrors. No special effects. No unbearable amplification. The steam that makes this little revue rise is talent, talent, talent.

The organization of the revue is straightforward with narrator and librettist-in-chief Jones taking us from the first Jones and Schmidt Broadway musical, 110 In The Shade, to two shows still in development, (Grover's Corner and Mirette ). The first two numbers serve the dual purpose of tickling our memories with some of their best-known songs and introducing us to the revue's singers.

"Come on Along" is sung by Tom and Harvey. They make up in zest and charm what they lack in "pipe" power. The second, "Try To Remember," demonstrates the diverse styles of Joan Cunningham, Emma Lampert and J. Mark McVey. Lampert, a pert newcomer to Off-Broadway, is ideally cast in the ingenue interpretations. Cunningham deftly delivers the more mature songs, while Mc Vey's strong voice does full justice to all the male numbers.

The menu of The Show Goes On is a large one. Even though The Fantasticks is still playing, (after 47 amazing amazing years Off-Broadway, road shows in 4 major cities, 3000 towns and 68 foreign countries), it enters into this show only as part of the narrative. As for the thirty numbers that are on the menu, I'll comment on just a few.

"Melissande" and the "Simple Little Things" beautifully illustrate a favorite Jones-Schmidt device: Two characters with strongly opposing points of view back-to-back songs so that these opposites, place close together at once heighten the dramatic contrast and form a sort of complete unit. The three different style opening numbers for I Do!I Do! offer amusing insight into the seemingly bottomless well of these artists' versatility and adaptability. "Decorate the Human Face" and "Where Did It Go" are standout illustrations of the awareness of time's passing that underlies much of their work.

The running commentary on the evolution (and sometimes non-evolution) of Jones/Schmidt shows makes the segments that focus on the lesser known songs in their oeuvre as enjoyable and arresting as those featuring the more familiar hits.

It's great to see these two zesty guys of an uncertain age who could easily rest on their laurels still developing promising new work and gamely facing skeptical producers. From the samples offered towards the end of Act two from the as yet unproduced Grover's Corners, (based on Thornton Wilder's Our Town ), one can only hope that the possible Williamstown Theatre Festival production mentioned during the post-show discussion will come to pass. WTF which frequently incubates shows Broadway producers see as too hot (or not hot enough) to handle could repeat its successful 1996 pairing of two Arthur Miller play (the American premiere of The Ride Down Mt. Morgan and a revival of All My Sons which moved on to the Roundabout in New York ) -- in this case, putting Grovers' Corners on its Main Stage and this little revue to run in tandem on its smaller stage.

Like the already mentioned set, the other production values for The Show Goes On are not flashy but nevertheless effective. Suzy Benzinger's costumes consist largely of a variety of different colored, well-coordinated pants jackets, but they add just enough color to support everything else. While this isn't a dance show, Janet Watson's staging and choreography, moves the performers around the tiny stage fluidly.

Songs by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt
Direction and musical staging by Drew Scott Harris
With: Tom Jones, Harvey Schmidt, JoAnn Cunningham, Emma Lampert and J. Mark McVey
York Theatre Co./St. Peter's Church, Citicorp Center, 54th Street and Lexington (212/935-5820)
12/10/97-1/18/98; opened 12/17/97
January 6, 1998: The show will literally go on--to Feb. 28!

reviewed Elyse Sommer 12/20/97

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