nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
April 18, 2007
If there's one line that describes this show, it's this: "How can a girl from Ninth Avenue in Ninth Avenue clothes conquer the world? Now, you put her in a Fifth Avenue dress. That's something different."
Irene, the 1919 musical with book by Hugh Wheeler and Joseph Stein [written for the 1973 revival], music by Harry Tierney and lyrics by Joseph McCarthy (additional lyrics by Charles Gaynor and Otis Clements), is a perfectly enjoyable evening.
It has the sort of plot worthy of a screwball comedy but presented in such a manner that it is more of a romantic tale of the dreams of young female piano tuner. Irish American Irene O'Dare (Jillian Louis) is a Ninth Avenue girl (translation for the time period: humble) who is sent to tune a piano for Long Island fancypants Donald Marshall lll (Patrick Porter). Irene and her comely friends quickly become models for Marshall's fashion-designer cousin (Selby Brown). The gowns they model are designed by flamboyant artiste Madame Lucy (Justin Sayre). At one point, Irene masquerades as a member of Society and skillfully fools those around.
Now, there isn't a lot of tension in this musical, but it doesn't really matter. Irene's character is not particularly fleshed out, even though there's a song devoted to her. She is basically just taken through the circumstances of her situation, which is fine, though it's hard to root too much for a couple we don't get to know very well. It's not a story that needs this long to be told, either, as there are not enough twists and turns to merit the running time.
This is a large cast of game performers, with songs including the popular "You Made Me Love You." Of particular note is Janet Carroll's vocal performance (Carroll plays Irene's mother, Mrs. O'Dare, and Donald's mother, Mrs. Marshall), in which she caresses each phrase with both vocal acuity and sincere intention.
I must also give mention to Justin Sayre, whose work I'd previously appreciated in Musicals Tonight!'s showing of Shinbone Alley. It seems Sayre is a master at the flamboyant hand-on-hip scene stealer. His performance in this is like Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Show meets Paul Lynde (in anything) meets a Cheshire Cat. Sayre seems to love being as big as possible—always appropriately done, and he brings light to the stage every time he appears.
The humor is light, easygoing, and pleasant, with most of the larger comedic moments conveyed by Madame Lucy. Sweet song lyrics include "What do you want to make those eyes at me for / When they don't mean what they say / They make me glad, they make me sad / They make me want a lot of things I've never had." The pace could have been picked up a bit, both in performance and in plot movement, but overall another successful production from Musicals Tonight!