NEW YORK—It’s fitting that the Encores! 20th Anniversary season opens with a lively concert version of “Fiorello!,” inasmuch as this show launched the Encores! musical theater series back in 1994.
With book by Jerome Weidman (who did the concert adaptation here) and George Abbott, the show deals with a segment in the life of feisty Fiorello LaGuardia, as he rises from an immigrant’s son to become one of New York City’s most effective and well-loved mayors. (How ironic and sad that this musical’s brief run coincided with the recent death of another iconic New York City mayor, Ed Koch).
At opening, Republican District Leader Ben Marino (Shuler Hensley) is fuming because he’s hard pressed to find a worthy candidate for the upcoming congressional campaign. (Hensley’s rough-voiced high energy performance comes near to overshadowing every other performance when he’s onstage.) But soon he does, and it’s none other than the irrepressible Fiorello LaGuardia.
Danny Rutigliano makes an appropriately exuberant Fiorello, at one point joining in with the talented chorus dancers (fine choreography by Alex Sanchez) to kick up his heels. In fact, one of the most entertaining scenes takes place in a Jewish neighborhood in the city, where one experiences shades of “Fiddler on the Roof” in style and joyous energy—it’s no surprise that the “Fiorello!” team of Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) later penned that blockbuster of a show.
“Fiorello!” is cleverly divided between political doings and Fiorello’s love life. His first marriage was to the beauteous Thea, with the elegant Kate Baldwin delivering a knockout rendition of the ballad “When Did I Fall in Love?” Always waiting in the wings, however, is LaGuardia’s loyal secretary, Marie (Erin Dilly). After Thea unexpectedly dies, Marie is there for Fiorello, and a second marriage is in the offing.
The aforementioned Shuler Hensley’s Ben Marino and his backroom buddies wittily explain how things are done in Marino’s political club with the educational “Politics and Poker” number. Later they bring down the house as they point out—tongue in cheek—how saving those little coins in a “Little Tin Box” can result in marvelous material benefits later on.
Directed by Gary Griffin, and supported by the terrific 30-piece Encores! orchestra led by Rob Berman, this “Fiorello!” exudes New York glamour and excitement of a particular period, which is exactly what’s required for this 1959 Pulitzer Prize winning drama and Tony-winning musical.
“Fiorello!,” now closed, only ran from Jan. 20 to Feb. 3 at the New York City Center.
Diana Barth writes and publishes “New Millennium,” an arts publication. For information: firstname.lastname@example.org
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