A 1947 Broadway smash revisited
East Haddam, Conn. — ''High Button Shoes'' ran on Broadway for two years after a smashing opening night in 1947.
Jule Styne wrote the tunes, Sammy Cahn the words. The book was by author Stephen Longstreet, who wrote the semi-autobiographical novel, ''The Sisters Liked Them Handsome,'' on which the show was based. The cast was exceptionally strong - Phil Silvers, Nanette Fabray, Jack McCauley, and Joey Faye in the four leads. The legendary George Abbott directed; Jerome Robbins did the highly praised choreography.
The show is occupying the Goodspeed Opera House stage through Sept. 11 (it will have played there 11 weeks) for one and all to see just what sort of entertainment was considered sell-out material at a time when ''Brigadoon'' and ''Finnian's Rainbow'' had just opened and ''Oklahoma'' was still going strong. As Goodspeed productions go, this ''High Button Shoes'' is solid, without having quite the spark that distinguishes its very finest revivals (such as ''Going Up'' or ''She Loves Me'').
The biggest surprise of the show is that the score is merely pleasant, with the exception of ''Papa, Won't You Dance With Me?'' and ''I Still Get Jealous,'' which were the emphatic favorites during the opening run. Even music director Lynn Crigler's typically snappy work could not make the score really memorable. The book perks merrily along in its old-fashioned way as it tells the tale of a slick con artist trying to swindle the townsfolk of New Brunswick, NJ, while trying to grab the hand of Fran Longstreet, who is in love with ''dumb athlete'' character Hubert Ogglethorpe.
It's a show that relied on bold personalities, actors and actresses who knew how to play the types in this show - and play them to the hilt. At Goodspeed, the casting is on a very competent level, but it's not quite enough to give the show the boost it must have to make us forget, or at least overlook, the rather flimsy nature of the material. Ray De Mattis, Joy Franz, Joe Warfield, John Remme and Lora Jeanne Martens are the leads in East Haddam, and they fulfill their obligations with dedication and moments of genuine warmth.
Dan Siretta, who has been the unflaggingly inventive choreographer at Goodspeed for so long, was director as well. He has kept the action all discreetly within the limits of the period of the action, giving it the look of any of the '20s musicals Goodspeed has so successfully revived over the years. If the dance numbers move along without quite the invention and sheer gusto of Siretta's usual work, everything at least fits neatly into a unified whole. On some past occasions, Mr. Siretta's dazzling dances were jarringly dropped into another director's less-than-lustrous concept.
The physical production is sumptuous. James Leonard Joy's sets handsomely evoke the era with a beguiling picture-book quality; David Toser's costumes are predicatably superb. This is Goodspeed at its most solid, giving theater mavens a chance to look back on a show that is more a memory than a legend of the Broadway past.