Broadway harks back to the golden age of musicals; And Off Broadway, a superb new drama

The Five O'Clock Girl, Musical comedy with book by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson, music and lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Directed by Sue Lawless. Musical staging and choreography by Dan Siretta.

The Goodspeed Opera House, Connecticut's invaluable source of musical-comedy goodies -- old and new -- has brightened the Broadway scene with another of its infectious revivals. "The Five O'Clock Girl," at the Helen Hayes Theater, harks affectionately back to 1927 and the golden age of American musicals. Alfred Simon sums up the era in a Playbill program note:

"The 1920s are noted for providing the New York theater with more hits than any other decade in this century. Especially bountiful was the year 1927, during which more than 50 musicals opened on Broadway. To name just a few: 'Good News,' 'A Connecticut Yankee,' 'Funny Face,' 'Hit the Deck,' 'Rio Rita,' 'My Maryland,' and to finish out the year gloriously, 'Show Boat.'"

"The Five O'Clock Girl" is a sweet and silly memento of that exuberant outpouring of talent. It's the kind of escapist diversion that celebrates the joy in enjoyment, the art in artifice, and the guile in beguilement. Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson fashioned a book with gags for all occasions and a papier-mache Cinderella plot about a working girl (Lisby Larson) who promptly at 5 p.m. every day makes an anonymous telephone call to her beau ideal, a polo-playing society swell (Roger Rathburn). Ensuing complications include mistaken identities, a stolen necklace, a jealous fiancee, etc., etc., etc. In other words, forget the plot. Just think of Ma Bell and bringing people together.

Under the flawless Sue Lawless direction, the fetching Miss Larson, the stalwart Mr. Rathburn, and their fellow performers engage in the fun and games with just the right blend of make-believe sincerity and gentle kidding. Above all, they do ample justice to the Bert Kalmar-Harry Ruby score (with a number of songs borrowed from other of their collaborations). Besides sentimental numbers like "Thinking of You" and "Up in the Clouds," there are, for example, the light romantic ("Who did? You Did!"), and the comic ("Any Little Thing" and "My Sunny Tennessee," the latter to musical saw accompaniment). Choreographer Dan Siretta's succession of dazzling routines climaxes with "Dancing the Devil Away, " in which Barry Preston's devil-may-care abandon brings down the house. Other principals in the classy company include Ted Pugh, Pat Stanley, Timothy Wallace, Sheila Smith, and Dee Hoty.

Lynn Crigler conducts a performance that revels in the catchy tunes and rhythms of the score. Russell Warner did the orchestrations and dance arrangements. The bright and airy stylishly '20s production was designed by John Lee Beatty (sets), Nanzi Adzima (costumes), and Craig Miller (lighting). They all help "The Five O'Clock Girl" turn back the clock and ring the chimes of the '20s.

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