Saturday, February 07, 2009

Encores: Music in the Air

Judging from Thursday night's performance, the Encores production of the 1932 musical Music in the Air is not one of the stronger revivals in the history of the series, but there are at least two things about it that might make it worthwhile: the singing and comic acting of its star, Kristin Chenoweth.

A collaboration between Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, Music in the Air can be considered one of the last gasps of the operetta form that was popular on Broadway during the first part of the twentieth century. Following three provincial Bavarian musicians who encounter their worldly urban counterparts in Munich, the musical has its charms, but this Encores production doesn't seem to make the most of them. It might have played up the comedy, or the dichotomy between the country and the city, or it might have relied more on vocalism to win over the audience. Instead, director Gary Griffin just seemed to sparingly sprinkle a little comedy, a little urban-rural culture clash, and a little bravura singing into the mix, only intermittently adding flavor to a generally bland production.

Robert Sella offers a very effective Act Two tirade as the orchestra leader Uppman, but this show belongs to Chenoweth. She brings life into the proceedings with her strong, clarion singing as well as her comic portrayal of the narcissistic prima donna Frieda Hatzfeld, a caricature reminiscent of those played by Madeline Kahn. Each of Chenoweth's entrances brightened the stage (the spotlights help, of course), but even her star power was not great enough to leave it undimmed upon her exits. The effect is not inappropriate considering that genuine stardom is part of the show's subject matter; at Music in the Air you can see just how much of a difference a genuine star can make in a production.

Here's a version of "I've Told Every Little Star," from Music in the Air.

Source (1:32)

And here's "The Song is You" as performed by Keely Smith.

Source (3:10)


Luke N. Atmaguchi said...

Kristen Chenoweth is a force of Nature -- no, sorry, of God, God.

I don't know from Broadway, but that fairly-recent revival of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" did a pre-New York workout in (suburban) Chicago, which I saw. Mainly due to interest in B.D. Wong's "Linus."

Only "you theater people" know the difference between shining and stealing. But Chenoweth as "Sally" took everything in sight. Maybe on the page it was the stealer role, but in any case that's what I saw . . .


David Marc Fischer said...

Simply put, she's got it.