Let It Ride!

There's a delightful surprise at the Lamb's Theatre this month. It's called Let It Ride!, and it's a staged concert version of a musical comedy by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, first produced (and last seen) on Broadway in 1961. Messrs. Livingston and Evans are the gentlemen responsible for "Silver Bells," "Dear Heart," "Mona Lisa," "Buttons and Bows," "Que Sera Sera" and dozens of other hit songs. They provided nineteen winning tunes for this opus, which is based on the comedy Three Men on a Horse. Producer Mel Miller, the guiding light behind this revival, has assembled a terrific cast of ten appealing young singers and actors who put over all nineteen numbers with enthusiasm and style, as well as read and enact an abridged version of Let It Ride!'s dopey, simple-minded book. The result: pure theatrical magic—a happy, funny, utterly charming entertainment offering a couple of hours of pleasant diversion and, not incidentally, a terrific showcase for some very deserving, very talented musical theatre performers.

As you have probably realized, Let It Ride! was not a hit back in 1961; it ran for about nine weeks and then disappeared. It tells the story of Erwin Trowbridge, a mild-mannered young man who works as a verse writer for a greeting card company. Erwin is in love with co-worker Audrey, but he needs to get a raise before he can afford to marry her. Unfortunately, Erwin's boss Mr. Carver is also enamored of Audrey, and so he denies Erwin's request for more money, causing Erwin to quit. Our hero winds up drowning his sorrows in a local bar, where he meets up with Patsy, a gruff but tender-hearted gambler, along with Patsy's floozy girlfriend Mabel and an assortment of his lowlife colleagues, who are all, needless to say, as lovable as Patsy himself. When Patsy finds out that Erwin seems to have a foolproof knack for picking the winners of horse races, he latches onto the hapless young man. Complications, as they say, ensue; but of course by the end of Act Two Erwin gets both his job and Audrey back and everything ends happily for just about everyone concerned.

Of course it's silly and unbelievable and inconsequential—though not necessarily more so than the books of other musicals of the period like Bye Bye Birdie or Subways are for Sleeping—but that's the point, really. The books for shows like Let It Ride! exist only to provide a frame on which to hang a dozen or so entertaining musical numbers and an equal number of amusing gags, all to show off, to the best possible advantage, the stars and the comics and the pretty ladies in the chorus. Old-fashioned? absolutely; but it's a formula that worked for decades. I don't know how well the original Let It Ride! delivered on all of this thirty-odd years ago. This production delivers, and in spades.

Let me tell you about these engaging players at the Lamb's Theatre. There's a fellow named Gary Lynch, who has appeared in Les Misérables among other shows: he has square-jawed good looks, a resonant baritone, and a delightful twinkle in his eye. He doubles here as Erwin's slightly deceitful boss Mr. Carver and as a tough named Nice Nose Brophy; he's terrific in both roles, and makes the most of two fairly loopy songs in the show's first act.

There's also a gentleman named E.J. Carroll, a big, strapping man who is cast as Patsy. To this role he brings the bluster and sure comic timing of a Nathan Lane and the nimble grace of a Jackie Gleason. He would steal the show single-handedly, probably, except Robin Baxter is on hand doing some pretty major larceny of her own. This lovely young lady plays both Audrey and Patsy's moll Mabel (think Miss Adelaide from Guys and Dolls and you've got Mabel pegged). Ms. Baxter is formidable as shrill, dumb, sweet Mabel, especially in the outsized burlesque turn "I Wouldn't Have Had To" that brings Act One to a resounding finish. But she's nearly as memorable as the less interesting Audrey, delivering the show's solid love ballad "Love, Let Me Know" with simple sincerity. Watch what Ms. Baxter does in the finale, when both of her characters are on stage together, and you'll see what a promising find she is.

And, with all that said, no one in the company is more engaging than the show's leading man, David Gurland. He's an unassuming guy, with big brown eyes and a day's growth of stubble on his chin; he plays Erwin with a refreshing guilelessness that brings to mind the young Robert Morse, and he sings Erwin's songs in an attractive light tenor that is sweet and effortless. This, too, is a young man to keep an eye on.

Mr. Miller, and his director Thomas Mills and his casting director Stephen DeAngelis, are to be commended for bringing together such a superlative company. (I should add here that the six supporting players—Aaron Ellis, Jennifer Miller, Wayne Pretlow, Tom Reidy, Rachell Lynn Ricca, and Joy E.T. Ross—all do fine work here as well.) In addition to outsized talent, what shines through in Let It Ride! is outsized joy: these performers seem genuinely delighted to be here, telling us this silly, innocent, dated tale. Their enthusiasm is not only infectious, it's enlarging; it's hard to imagine someone leaving this frothy little musical without feeling just a bit happier than when he or she came in.