A Grand Musical Echoes Old Broadway
Its sharp cast and crisp music offer plenty of nostalgia
NEW YORK — AIN'T BROADWAY GRAND Musical comedy with music by Mitch Leigh. Lyrics by Lee Adams. Book by Thomas Meehan and Lee Adams. Directed by Scott Harris. Scenery by David Mitchell. Costumes by Suzy Benzinger. Lighting by Ken Billington. Choreography by Randy Skinner. Produced by Arthur Rubin at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
`AIN'T Broadway Grand" is a dazzling and nostalgic trip down Broadway of an earlier era.
The raucous and occasionally magical musical is about eclectic impresario Mike Todd. In the 1940s and '50s, the square-jawed, tough-talking Todd produced musical extravaganzas like "Star and Garter" and "Up in Central Park" with as much showmanship and dexterity as he used in producing a highly-praised production of "Hamlet."
While Todd often declared he wanted to do more shows with "class," he was best known for producing ones that were a combination of Ziegfeld Follies, burlesque, and old-time vaudeville. Happily, "Ain't Broadway Grand" doesn't pretend to be any more than that. And it has the saving grace of never taking itself too seriously.
"Ain't Broadway Grand" tells of Todd's efforts to turn a show that bombed in Boston into a Broadway hit. Along the way to the Great White Way, Todd's relationship with his wife, movie star Joan Blondell, begins to unravel. But like many of the shows Todd produced, these parallel stories have happy endings, at least in "Ain't Broadway Grand." In real life, Todd later went on to marry Elizabeth Taylor.
Mitch Leigh, best known for his Tony Award-winning score for "Man of La Mancha," has written an outstanding score. "You're my star," "Waiting in the Wings," and the title song "Ain't Broadway Grand" are excellent musical numbers. There's plenty of buoyancy and fun to "Lindy's" and "the Theatre, the Theater."
Lee Adams, who won a Tony for "Bye Bye Birdie," has contributed surprisingly fresh and witty lyrics for a musical that has one foot squarely in the past. In fact, "Ain't Broadway Grand" is being advertised as a "brand-new 1948 musical."
Thomas Meehan, who wrote the book for the musical "Annie," co-authored the book with Adams as a comic satire on Todd's own brassy blend of musical comedy and vaudeville.
The entire cast is excellent. Mike Burstyn's Mike Todd ably captures the swagger and drive of the erstwhile Chicago saloon keeper who, even after displaying his financial wizardry on Broadway, still remained somewhat of a huckster carnival barker. Maureen McNamara as Joan Blondell, Debbie Shapiro Gravitte as Gypsy Rose Lee, and Gerry Vichi as comedian Bobby Clark are all amusing. McNamara has a wonderful voice as well. Richard B. Schull, as a zany ham actor, ably displays the gift of broad comedy he has
brought to numerous supporting roles.
If you love New York and flashy Broadway revues of yesteryear, "Ain't Broadway Grand" is grand and plenty of fun.