Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Humor Me

As we enter what Alan Jay Lerner dubbed "The Lusty Month of May," perhaps it would be wise to take note of how strange April 2017 turned out to be.

As Trump and his greedy cohort of grifters set about raping and plundering the United States government while dismantling the progressive achievements of the Obama administration, I was reminded of J.B. Biggley's sorry confession from 1961's hit musical, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying: "Nepotism is what happens when your nephew is an idiot!"

Trump's first 100 days in office have impressed the world with their overabundance of failed promises, mind-boggling incompetence, willful ignorance, rampant racism, disgusting thuggery, vicious acts of anti-Semitism, jaw-dropping anti-intellectualism, and unconscionable displays of xenophobia and transphobia. As Paul Krugman noted: "The 100-day reviews are in, and they’re terrible. The health care faceplants just keep coming; the administration’s tax 'plan' offers less detail than most supermarket receipts; Trump has wimped out on his promises to get aggressive on foreign trade. The gap between big boasts and tiny achievements has never been wider."

In Meredith Willson's 1957 hit musical, The Music Man, Professor Harold Hill is described by another traveling salesman as "just a bang beat, bell ringing, big haul, great go, neck or nothin, rip roarin, every time a bullseye salesman." While some people may think of Trump as a similarly smooth-talking con man, the sad truth is that, like many schoolyard bullies, the Snowflake-in-Chief doesn't like it when people "aren't nice to him."

Trump's speaking style has been described by The New York Times Op-Ed columnist Charles Blow as "a tyranny of gibberish -- a jumble of incomplete thoughts stitched together with arrogance and ignorance." Blow rightfully portrays the President as having "the intellectual depth of a coat of paint; a man who is simultaneously unintelligible in his delivery, self-assured in his ignorance, and consciously bathing in his narcissism."

Trump's refusal to attend the annual White House Correspondents' Association's dinner didn't save him from being royally roasted and ridiculed. Because the WHCA's dinner is essentially a fundraiser for scholarships given to college students pursuing careers in journalism, the event is usually attended by the President of the United States. With Trump waging war against "fake news" (and unable to care about helping anyone other than himself and his family), there were fears that his absence would hurt the organization's scholarship program. Thankfully, it did not.

Ticket sales were brisk and Full Frontal's fearless host, Samantha Bee, produced a rival event entitled "NOT The White House Correspondents' Dinner" (held at DAR Constitution Hall) that raised funds for the Committee to Protect Journalists. Both events stressed the importance of the the First Amendment, with comedian Hasan Minhaj reminding his audience that Trump won't protect the First Amendment's right of free speech which allows him to Tweet whatever is on his mind at three o'clock in the morning. Bee and Minhaj (who have both been featured "fake journalists" on The Daily Show) didn't waste any time going for the jugular.

Proudly representing two of the political minorities the misogynistic Trump favors least (women and brown people), Bee and Minhaj merrily shoved their points of view down the throats of those who would deny them their rights in order to take America back to the repressed lifestyle of the 1950s. However, if one were to go back just another three decades in time to the Roaring Twenties, one would land in the free-wheeling flapper era, where the new (and often unwelcome) talents in town were Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants. It was an era marked by silent film and Prohibition; a time when avowed hedonists like Auntie Mame could boast that "the moon's full, the gin's in the bathtub, and all my dearest friends are here -- even the ones I haven't met yet!"

* * * * * * * * *
Following a lengthy tryout in Chicago, the London production of No, No, Nanette opened on March 11, 1925 before the show finally landed on Broadway on September 16 of that year. Although the London production ran for 665 performances and the New York production for 321, the popular musical (with lyrics by Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach and a book by Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel) wasn't revived on Broadway for nearly half a century. Conceived as a spoof of No, No, NanetteSandy Wilson's musical, The Boy Friend, opened in London in 1953. When the show opened on Broadway, it made a star out of Julie Andrews.

Nanette (Samantha Rose) hits the beach in a scene
from No, No, Nanette (Photo by: Ben Krantz) 

In 1971, with a new adaptation written by Burt Shevelove (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), No, No, Nanette once again took the town by storm. What was life like in these United States in 1971?
Crooning such Vincent Youmans standards as "Too Many Rings Around Rosie," "Tea For Two," "You Can Dance With Any Girl" and tap dancing to "I Want To Be Happy" and "Take A Little One-Step," the 1971 cast featured Helen Gallagher, Bobby Van, Jack Gilford, and Susan Watson. With Patsy Kelly stealing the show as a wise-cracking maid who has a love-hate relationship with her vacuum cleaner, the production starred the 62-year-old Ruby Keeler (who made her Broadway debut in the ensemble of George M. Cohan's 1923 musical, The Rise of Rosie O'Reilly, before Busby Berkeley transformed her into a tap-dancing movie star).

San Francisco's 42nd Street Moon is currently presenting No, No, Nanette in an ebullient production directed by Cindy Goldfield and choreographed by Nicole Helfer with costumes by Shelby Pujol and lighting and scenic design by Kevin August Landesman. With a cast of strong performers and a musical ensemble under the direction of Dave Dobrusky, there are many reasons to see the show. But the most important one may surprise you.

Maureen McVerry as the maid, Pauline, in a scene
from No, No, Nanette (Photo by: Ben Krantz) 

Blessed with high spirits, ukuleles, and an energetic ensemble dancing the Charleston, Jitterbug, and tap dancing with gusto, No, No, Nanette is a sorely-needed tonic for today's troubled times. It is also an historic relic -- the kind of tired businessman's musical whose sole purpose was to entertain (rather than be a consciousness-raising vehicle for exploring the effects of social injustice on the less fortunate).

In an era when so much humor has become intensely politicized, gross, or vulgar, Shevelove's script is refreshingly light and sweet. Not only can it make infidelity, sugar daddies, strawberry phosphate, and retail therapy seem adorably quaint, the refrain from one of the show's snappiest songs also explains how its creative team felt about their audience:
"I want to be happy
But I won't be happy
Till I make you happy too."
Andrew Mondello and Samantha Rose in a scene
from No, No, Nanette (Photo by: Ben Krantz) 

Granted, No, No, Nanette made its debut prior to the Wall Street crash of 1929, the Great Depression, the rise of Adolf Hitler, and the horrifying carnage of World War II. But its intoxicating spirit still sends audiences home with goofy smiles on their faces (which, these days, is a rare achievement).

The casting and production values at 42nd Street Moon continue to soar with the company's new leadership. Although sweet and appealing, Samantha Rose's Nanette and Andrew Mondello's Tom Trainor were no match for the scene-stealing work of veterans Maureen McVerry as Pauline and Michael Patrick Gaffney as the soft-hearted benefactor, Jimmy Smith. Mark Farrell gave a strong performance as Smith's lawyer, Billy Early, with Abby Haug doing a splendid job as his shopaholic wife (Ms. Haug nailed Lucille's Act II ballad, "Where Has My Hubby Gone Blues"). Lee Ann Payne underwent a delicious transformation from the frumpy Sue Smith into a tap-dancing flapper eager to join the party.

Lee Ann Payne, Michael Patrick Gaffney, Mark Farrell, and Abby
Haug in a scene from No, No, Nanette (Photo by: Ben Krantz) 

Others in the cast included Mary Lauren as Dottie, Samantha Pistoresi as Betty Brown, Danielle Cheiken as Winnie Winslow, and Andrea St. Clair as the bubbly Flora Latham. The male ensemble included Nathaniel Rothrock, Juan Castro, Derrick Contreras, and Jean-Paul Jones.

Samantha Pistoresi, Danielle Cheiken, Mark Farrell, and Andrea
St. Clair in a scene from No, No, Nanette (Photo by: Ben Krantz) 

Performances of No, No, Nanette continue through May 14 at the Eureka Theatre (click here for tickets). Here's the trailer:

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