by Maggie Kulbokas
"Nanette" stars the infectiously funny Fred Willard with film credits in such features as "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best in Show" and recurring roles in the popular television shows "Roseanne" and "Everybody Loves Raymond." I must confess, I love Fred Willard and at first, was a tad disappointed that his presence on stage was not as big as I had expected.
But that disappointment was quickly abandoned thanks to the incredible cast of Broadway co-stars and supporting ensemble. These people have a list of stage credits that rivals the length of a career gangster's rap sheet.
"No, No, Nanette" is a colorful, happy, fun-spirited slice of Americana. First staged on Broadway in 1925, it quickly became a quintessential part of the American musical theatre. As such, "Nanette" was revived for the stage in the '70s and proved to be even more popular than the original showing. Well-known hits such as "Tea for Two" and "I Want to Be Happy" coupled with energetic dance sequences had the whole Playhouse swaying.
"Nanette" stars Willard as the kind, good-hearted bible publisher, Jimmy Smith. Willard's innocent good nature shows through making Jimmy loveable and believable. Smith and his wife, Sue, played by the talented and charismatic Dorothy Stanley, are the legal guardians of their niece, the young and impressionable Nanette, played by Garrett Long. Long imbued her Nanette with a sweet naivite so lacking in modern roles.
"Nanette" is really two stories in one. It is the story of young Nanette and her desire to live a little before her destined marriage to the young law clerk, Tom, played by Zachary Halley. Nanette wants to be free and experience life and she knows just the place to do it--her Uncle Jimmy's little-used Atlantic City summer get-away, Chickadee Cottage. The second is the story of Jimmy, a good man, who just wants to make people happy as noted in the lyrics of his trademark song, "I want to be happy; but I won't be happy; 'till I make you happy too." Unfortunately, he may have gone to far making three young ladies "happy."
As Nanette schemes to make it to Atlantic City against the wishes of her jittery beau and her over-protective aunt Sue, Jimmy is descended upon by the three young ladies looking for more "happiness". Enter Jimmy's lawyer Billy, played by the dapper and talented George Dvorsky, who must do everything he can to not upset Jimmy's happy home. Billy's wife and best friend to Sue, Lucille, is played by the sexy Rebecca Luker whose simmering dance numbers and powerful voice entranced the audience. As is typical with concurrent stories, a comedy of errors ensues bursting with chaos and confusion, and it is up to the characters to sort it out with humor and in this case, wonderful song and dance.
The beauty of a performance at the Playhouse is the ability to draw a bevy of undeniable talent to this venerable, old theatre. Scene-stealer after scene-stealer graced the stage during the show, perhaps, most notably, Barbara Marineau as the witty maid Pauline. Pauline's off-handed comments and shear hatred of her job had the audience in stitches. From the opening scene she carried out her daily chores of vacuuming, ironing, dusting, shopping and toting around the sweetest little pooches with a non-stop stream of threats to quit.
Willard and co-stars were supported by a bright young ensemble who danced and sang with great zeal. Several of the women had experience as either choreographers or dancers with the Rockettes and the high kicking line dances were some of the most energetic in the musical. The dancing put a smile on everyone's face as it ranged from the flapper-style dancing of the '20s to waltzing, tap, soft-shoe and even gymnastics.
The costumes were bright and cheery adding to the overall feel-good vibe of the musical. The period piece gowns and dresses were amply beaded and bold and the summer wear and swim suits for the beach numbers showed the more reserved side of a more innocent age.
The set design by Dan Kuchar was most impressive. A larger than life silhouette of a flapper created a division between the stage and the orchestra. Multiple entrances from off-stage gave the impression of several rooms. Set elements were easily moved by cast members for change of scenery and to create more room for grandiose dance sequences. The musical is presented in three acts with an intermission after the first. The set change for the third act was done in a most clever way--by the cast with the curtain up. What a hoot!
As the Cape Playhouse does not have an orchestra pit, the musicians are typically relegated to the back of the stage thereby diminishing the amount of performance area for the cast. Not a problem, however, with Eileen Grace's deft choreography. Director Mark Martino's vast experience as both a director and choreographer is evident in the fluidity with which "Nanette" was presented and performed.
"Nanette" is just the kind of feel good musical we need to balance the troubles of everyday living.