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REVIEW: "No, No, Nanette" - Candlelight Pavilion, Claremont

"...From graceful old-school soft-shoe to Charleston-inflected jazz-age exuberance!"

Forget June! Silly, feel-good fun is bustin’ out all over with Candlelight Pavilion’s outstanding presentation of the musical comedy, “No, No, Nanette,” as John LaLonde’s dazzling direction whips up a tasty banquet of ebullient, bouncy songs, dewy-eyed romance and frolicsome comedy that sends nostalgic theater patrons out on a cloud.

Wednesday, September 16th, 1925 began what may have been the most remarkable day in the history of American Musical Theatre. “No, No, Nanette” opened that evening, and was subsequently labeled the biggest musical comedy success of that era.

Among the madcap antics, snug comfortably within a dandy score, you soon find yourself surrendering to the show’s ephemeral charms. Vincent Youmans’s breezy score is his best, the greatest triumph of his life, catchy and endearing for all his stylistic limitations. It was practically impossible not to predict the next note or turn of phrase in one of “Nanette’s” songs. Several of the songs were brought over in one form or another from other shows. “Take a Little One-Step” was taken whole from “Lollipop,” while the title song was a clever rewriting of “My Boy and I” from “Mary Jane McKane.” The two belatedly added hits, “Tea for Two,” and “I Want to be Happy” were numbers of striking simplicity, open sentimentality and easy directness, with both songs employing an almost identical bridge, and making them two of the most popular of all American standards for many years afterwards.

With lyrics by Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach, and an unabashedly schmaltzy book by Harbach and Frank Mandel, the show is based on Mandel's 1919 Broadway play “My Lady Friends.” It was rumored for many years that the great Babe Ruth was sent to the Yankees as part of financing strategy for “Nanette,” but in actuality it was for “My Lady Friends.” Both farcical stories, “No, No, Nanette” involves three couples who find themselves together at a hideaway cottage in the midst of a blackmail scheme, focusing on a young, fun-loving Manhattan heiress who has an untapped wild side and wants to taste the Roaring Twenties before settling down, and leave her unhappy fiancé behind…well, almost fiancé.

Amusingly adapted in 1971 by Burt Shevelove (“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”), “No, No, Nanette” is an old-fashioned confection about blossoming romance and kooky shenanigans predominately set in Atlantic City circa 1925. Spunky Nanette (Erin Dubreuil) is the unconventional flapper ward of Jimmy (Frank Minano), a prosperous publisher of Bibles, and is himself not a little unconventional. He has a weakness for sharing some of his wealth with pretty young ladies whose careers need financial encouragement. But he is more open-handed than open-minded – at least where Nanette is concerned, even though he has told her he won’t be happy until he knows she is happy too.

Enter the young Tom, depicted by David Šášik (“Bonnie & Clyde,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Dogfight”), Billy’s straight-laced law clerk and nephew to Lucille, Billy's wife. Tom is quite in love with Nanette and very possessive and the most ardent of her suitors. He is definitely not in sympathy with her new independent streak. He finally gets her alone long enough to confess his intentions and grope for the ring in his pocket (“I’ve Confessed To the Breeze”).

But Nanette wants some time to raise Cain before she settles down, because she has had no freedom. Tom’s glowing picture of a love nest where he and Nanette won’t have it known they own a telephone fails to change his head-strong beloved’s mind, and she manages to get the okay for a whirlwind vacation from guardian Jimmy, chaperoned by her eccentric and amusing maid, Pauline.

By the way, there were times, especially when the curtain opened, that for a moment you would swear you were watching a Carol Burnett rerun. The magnificently versatile Mary Murphy-Nelson (“Hairspray,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Hello Dolly!”) dead-pans to riotous laughter as the Smiths’ put-upon maid Pauline, along with her motorized upright vacuum, which should have had a credited role itself. Her intermittent cameos throughout both acts were always side-splitting and highly anticipated by all.

In the title role of the frisky girl who just wants to have fun, Ms. Dubreuil is as light on her feet as she is secure in her period-perfect vocals, while Mr. Šášik matches her every step of the way as Nanette’s ever hopeful betrothed. Both voices are unmatched in quality —impeccably consummate, clear, sparkling and as fresh as a Singapore Sling, especially in their mesmerizing duet, “Tea for Two.” Close your eyes and Mr. Šášik’s rich, controlled baritone completely envelops you, wooing you warmly while also complementing Ms. Dubreuil’s tone perfectly.

As Billy, dynamically debonair leading man Michael Milligan impressively demonstrates his finesse as a marvelous Jerome Robbins-esque dancer, whether he’s solo out front of the chorus in “The Call of the Sea” or testing the boundaries of marital tolerance with his wife, Lucille (Colette Peters), in “You Can Dance With Any Girl.”

In a remarkable showcase allowing him to display his terrific lines, masculine elegance, and great agility, Mr. Milligan's feet seem to impulsively channel Astaire’s as he swoops, taps, cartwheels and pirouettes on an extended dance ensemble scene…all without touching the ground – or so it seems.

Colette Peters, who you may have seen at the dinner theatre previously in “Singing in the Rain,” or perhaps “Miss Saigon,” is the ultimate pro and has a voice to die for, not to mention a unique comic style. Laden with packages from a shopping spree, she makes a grand entrance addressing the attentive chorus boys — “Careful fellers, you know how satin bruises,” — and then proceeds to wring every campy nuance she can out of Lucille in dialogue, song and dance.

Then, later in the second half, the sultry, well-staged number, “Where Has My Hubby Gone Blues,” played with delicious aplomb by Ms. Peters in a red hot killer cocktail gown (again, accompanied by the boys chorus), rendered me spellbound and made me an instant fan.

And, debuting in her Candlelight break-out role of Jimmy’s wife and Lucille’s best friend, Sue, played by class act Tracy Ray Reynolds (“Souvenir,” “Company”), the normally reserved Mistress of the house finally spreads her wings at the end, and really dusts off her tap shoes. Ms. Reynolds brings sweetness and poise to the trusting wife who had determined to stay outside the social whirl in “I Want to be Happy,” yet kicks up a storm in the show’s climax to lead a rousing rendition of “Take a Little One-Step.”

As hoary and (dare I say it?) old-fashioned as the jokes often are, with deliberation I’m sure, the cast gives the material a sheen of originality. Frank Minano (“The Sound of Music,”“The King and I,” “Cinderella”) is all grinning befuddlement as "near-millionaire" publisher, Jimmy, who has plenty of disposable income and has been handing out sums of money to three cuties in a strictly platonic way, yet is never really untrue to his wife. The three floozies who test his fidelity and the weight of his wallet — Flora from San Francisco (Catie Marron), Betty from Boston (Drew Lake) and Winnie from Washington (Erin Tierney) are a real hoot. Playing their roles with dim-witted vivacity, this trio of stage veterans are all triple-threat artists and have an affinity for comedic roles. They do exceptional vocal work on “The Three Happies,” and “Telephone Girlie.”

Those same three greedy girlies end up settling for a mere twenty thousand each. Billy will take the blame and Jimmy will foot the bill. Lucille makes up with her husband and runs to tell her best friend Sue that it was really Jimmy that's to blame. "All he wanted to do was to share his Bible money, and you can't fault that," she decides. So, in short order, Sue disposes of her husband’s lady friends, sees that Tom and Nanette are reconciled and back on track (one kiss and there are wedding bells in the air)...and Sue, as any good housewife will do, makes sure Mr. Smith’s generosity is directed toward her from now on.

This prototypical ragtime flapper musical is simply unsullied effervescence, chock-full of codas and reprises set to the happy feet dance numbers of yesteryear with shameless abandon. “Too Many Rings Around Rosie,” “Tea for Two,” “I Want to Be Happy,” and “Take a Little One-Step” are among the many musical numbers fantastically choreographed by John Vaughan (“Anything Goes,”“The Music Man,”“Sister Act”). Mr. Vaughan’s consistently fabulous tap routines helped capture the essential, cutesy flavor of the Roaring Twenties, keeping the show’s purely escapist pedigree at a deliriously sunny high. From graceful old-school soft-shoe to Charleston-inflected jazz-age exuberance, soaring romantic expressions and jackhammer tap marathons, Mr. Vaughan has many able accomplices, as well as a generous helping of robust dance numbers that give “Nanette” its buoyancy.

Reminiscent of tap-driven musicals “42nd Street,” “Dames at Sea,” “Crazy for You,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and “Holiday Inn” to name a few, “No, No, Nanette” stands as a vibrantly entertaining homage to bygone Broadway. Everything is lavish about the show -- the flapper dresses, the knickers and spats, the wild dashes of color, the large choruses. Mark Gamez outfits the whole ensemble in snazzy 1920s chic through The Theatre Company. Scenic Designer is Chuck Ketter, assisted by Colleen Bresnahan and Hilary Knight. Wigs are by Michon Gruber-Gonzales. Director is John LaLonde and Musical Director is Douglas Austin.

The very talented Ensemble includes Cody Bianchi, Ruben Bravo, Deborah Fauerbach, Max Herzfeld, Julia Iacopetti, Katie Jurich, Fisher Kaake, Colden Lamb, Kristin O’Connell, Aaron Shaw, Libby Snyder, and Helen Tait.

“No, No, Nanette” will be playing through April 13th at Ben D. Bollinger's Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont. Performances are held Thursday, Friday and Saturday Evenings with an additional Thursday Evening Performance April 11th. Dinner Seating at 6:00pm, and Curtain at 8:00pm. Saturday and Sunday Matinees Luncheon Seating at 11:00am, Curtain at 12:45pm. Sunday Evenings Dinner Seating at 5:00pm, Curtain at 7:00pm. Tickets may be purchased at This Show Has the Ultimate Recommendation!

Chris Daniels

Arts Reviewer

Photos courtesy Kevin Gasio


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