A show Broadway was waiting for -- and one it wasn't

Woman of the Year' Starring Lauren Bacall. Musical comedy with book by Peter Stone, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb. Based on the MGM film by Ring Larnder Jr. and Michael Kanin. Directed by Robert Moore. Choreography by Tony Charmoli.

"Woman of the Year" is the new musical Broadway has been waiting for. The sumptuous show at the Palace Theater is sassy, witty, sophisticated, drily romantic, and bursting with the kind of exuberant energy that exhilarates a capacity audience.

Lauren Bacall stars and glitters and scintillates as the women in question -- a wondrous blend of glamour and comic aplomb. Miss Bacall plays Tess Harding, a TV superachiever who co-anchors a morning network program (see local listings for details). Tess is a household name from Maine to Hawaii, a Barbara Walters a la carte, never more than a phone-beep signal away from the latest scoop.

When Tess telecasts an editorial decrying comic strips, cartoonist Sam Craig (Harry Guardino) retaliates by introducing a feline named Tessie the Cat into his daily strip. Mutual apologies follow mutual attacks. Before long, Tess and Sam are harmonizing like kittens on the keys.

But not for too long. By the time Tess steps on the stage to receive her Woman-of-the-Year Award, Sam has walked out on his career-obsessed mate. Act I is a flashback from the award ceremonies. Act II concerns Tess's efforts to find out what went wrong and repair the damage.

Librettist Peter Stone has updated the wonderful old Hepburn-Tracy comedy about a woman pundit and a sportswriter, revising the situation to meet the needs of a Broadway musical in the age of television. The revision works like a charm. The wit and humor of the book are complemented by an excellent score. Composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb have written a series of numbers that achieve the musical-comedy ideal of advancing the plot, commenting on the situation, and illuminating character.

In "When You're Right, You're Right!" Tess and her man Friday (Roderick Cook) acclaim the lady's extraordinary prescience. Sam joins his cartoon character Katz for the animated "What Else Is New?" (projected animations by Michael Sporn). "One of the Boys," the first big production number, introduces Tess to the cartoonist crowd at the Inkpot restaurant. Just about everybody voices a view of the Craig's marital situation in "It isn't Working," while Tess's two loyal retainers (Mr. Cook and Grace Keagy) put in their 2 cents' worth in "I Told You So."

Even the second-act ballet, "Happy in the Morning" --with some spectacular dancing by Eivind Harum as a Soviet defector whose love is drawing him back to Moscow -- serves the designs of "Woman of the Year." In the show-stopping "The Grass is Always Greener," Tess and her first husband's present mousy wife (brilliantly performed by Marilyn Cooper) compare notes.

Although the score is short on sentiment, Kander and Ebb make amends with "Sometimes a Day Goes By," tenderly sung by the craggy-visaged Mr. Guardino, a stalwartly impressive figure as the sharply independent yet sensitive Sam.

The production staged by Robert Moore and Choreography by Tony Charmoli (with an uncredited assist from Tommy Tune) is top-drawer all the way: in Tony Walton's glide-sets, Theoni V. Aldredge's spiffy costumes, and Marilyn Rennagel's lighting. Other important contributions include Donald Pippin's musical direction and vocal arrangements, Michael Gibson's orchestrations, Ronald Melrose's dance arrangements, and Abe Jacob's well-balanced amplification. So give a cheer plus two for "Woman of the Year." It's Tessie the Cat's meow.

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