Theatre Review: “Jubilee” @ 42nd Street Moon, 12/6

Delightful, charming and endearing are all words that come to mind when describing 42nd Street Moon’s production of Jubilee. This Cole Porter and Moss Hart musical is a rare gem that never gets produced and I’m so glad that 42nd Street Moon decided to produce this show again. (They produced Jubilee in their inaugural season back in 1993, but back when they were just performing shows in “concert” version – without choreography, blocking and sets.) This show is absolutely delightful and you must check it out before it closes on December 13th.

“Seeking suitable inspiration for an elegant song-and-dance entertainment, Cole Porter and Moss Hart took off on a four-and-a-half month, 34-000-mile cruise around the world” writes Stanley Green in Broadway Musicals, Show By Show. Can you imagine cruising around the world writing a musical? Sounds pretty amazing to me. Porter & Moss came up with a plot that is filled with standard 1930’s musical theatre hijinks and complex love triangles that even in 2009 continue to be smart and funny. The Royal Family of a “fictional European country” abandon the throne and go off on an adventure. Parody versions of recognizable 1930’s celebrities (Noel Coward, Elsa Maxwell, Johnny Weissmuller, Ginger Rogers) represent the disguised monarch and family. Each one of the Royal Family finds love and adventure in the “real” world even though their very existence is being threatened by “scary” revolutionaries.

This show is basically a love song to anyone and everyone that was important in the 1930’s – think Elizabeth Arden, Elsa Maxwell, Grace Moore, Billy Sunday and the list goes on. It’s a good thing that they published a “Who’s Who in 1935” in the back of the program because I would have been lost without it. I have a feeling that the rest of the audience (I was the youngest one there by about 30-40 years) understood every word.

What’s so wonderful about this production is the simplicity of it. The cast is only 15 members, so several of them played up to six different characters ranging from princes, lords, newsman, club singers, and even “bathing beauties” (the original Broadway production had over 100 in their cast). Each character the cast created was distinct and hysterical. My favorite character was Eva Standing (played by Dyan McBride). McBride’s comedic timing was absolutely perfect and she delivered her lines flawlessly. She instantly became one of my “most intimate friends.” Prince James (Andrew Willis-Woodward) and Karen O’Kane (Alison Ewing) fall desperately in love after Karen sings the classic Cole Porter song, “Begin the Beguine.” I 100% understood his love connection because I fell a little bit in love with Karen as she sang as well! The Queen’s (Megan Cavanagh) facial expressions and line delivery cracked me up every time, while Mowgli, played by the talented CJ Blankenship, awed the audience with his agility, vocal chops and ripped body. (Blankenship sings “When Me, Mowgli, Love” in just a loin cloth!) The cast never needed big sets or props to help tell their story – they did fine all by themselves.

Tom Segal’s choreography was ingenious for their limited space in the Eureka Theatre. Most notable was the dance numbers between Willis-Woodward and Ewing in “Begin the Beguine” and “A Picture of Me Without You.” Their partner dancing was quite effortless and complicated all at the same time.

I just can’t say enough great things about this production. After a long weekend of so-so theatre, I ended up being surprised with how wonderful the cast, choreography, costumes, music and direction were. It’s really a show that you don’t want to miss! Buy your tickets now for this weekend!

***

Lady, Be Good!, the classic George and Ira Gershwin musical is up next beginning in April. Get your tickets now because if Jubilee is any inclination of what Lady, Be Good! will be, then I’m not gonna miss it!

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