Friday, March 31, 2006

70, GIRLS, 70. Fred Ebb would be delighted that Encores! is putting on a production of 70, Girls, 70. "I was very fond of the show. It was a real joy to write," the lyricist once told me.

"The show was not a success, but it was great fun," he recalled. "It's about senior citizens living in a rundown hotel. A former resident wants to make a band of thieves of these elderly people so that they can go out like Robin Hood did--steal from the rich and provide homes and care for other elderly people who are in the same circumstance."

Ebb, who died in 2004, crafted the songs with his longtime creative partner John Kander and worked on the book with Norman L. Martin. Stephen Sondheim included a 70, Girls, 70 number, "Home," on that list of songs he wishes he'd written, but the musical itself only ran for a month on Broadway in 1971.

The original Broadway cast included Mildred Natwick, Hans Conreid, and Joey Faye. "The cast members were all wonderfully spry and energetic and funny. It was just a very good time," Ebb remembered, though it seems that one actor passed away after getting a big laugh during a tryout performance in Philadelphia.

The current concert version, which runs only this weekend, features Bob Dishy, Tina Fabrique, Anita Gillette, and Charlotte Rae along with Olympia Dukakis and a crew of other veteran performers. In one of the City Center lobbies, there's a list of the dozens of Broadway shows that, together, they represent. (The early Mel Brooks-Charles Strouse-Lee Adams musical All American was among the shows; if it's any good at all, it ought to be very high on the Encores! "to do" list.) I was delighted to see Carleton Carpenter in the cast; back in the day, he sang "Aba Daba Honeymoon" alongside Debbie Reynolds and, more recently, he was an engaging speaker at the Film Forum.

As for this Encores! production, it's charming if a bit creaky. Good songs and giggles are sprinkled throughout the show, but the rudimentary sets are sub-par for the series, the sound ought to be crisper, the musical direction could be smoother, and some more rehearsal time probably would have made a big difference. Perhaps some of the wrinkles will be botoxed out over the course of the weekend.

Sometimes it seems that what constitutes a big "success" for Encores! is when its revivals make it to Broadway. In this case, I'd be curious to see a more polished staging of the show in a small, intimate theater, though perhaps one of Broadway's tinier venues would be suitable.

Discount tickets for 70, Girls, 70 should be available through and Theatermania and, possibly, TKTS.

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