note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Beverly Creasey
Here's my advice: Jump on "The Band Wagon" next weekend* --- because if you miss out you may have to wait another seventy years to see this historic Dietz & Schwartz revue. This "lighter than air charade" hasn't been presented since it played Broadway in 1931. (The film of the same name only borrows a few of the songs!)
Ben Sears and Bradford Conner (whose research on the subject of the American musical is legendary) unearthed the comedy skits from one source and the music from several others --- including the Library of Congress.. Their restored concert version of the revue opens with the wry tongue in cheek "It Better Be Good And Funny (It better be worth the money)" Who doesn't love a lyricist who doesn't take himself too seriously? Not only do we get to see what humor was like seventy years ago, we learn that it hasn't changed that much. Deitz and George S. Kaufman sent up their competition, lampooned stuffy politicians and tweaked social customs.
Jerome Kern takes a hit for his "Showboat" (with hilarious mock coloratura from chanteuse Merle Perkins), athletes are soundly thrashed in a bit about scholastic scoring and even virgins get their comeuppance (in 1931 yet!)
Although the American Classics performance is billed as a concert version, just about everyone is off book, which means the company does everything but bring out the banana peels. The comedy is endearingly lame and joyously, inanely repetitious: after three appearances of the "What, no beans?" sketch, you laugh because it's nonsensical and because it's familiar .... and then it pays off deliciously. (If either Bob Jolly or Roberta Gilbert want to give up music, they can make a handsome living doing standup.)
Director David frieze even infuses the music with a free-for-all tapfest which is pretty daffy --- and to Frieze's credit, looks marvellously rehearsed. But what Music there is! Ben Sears croons an elegant "Dancing in The Dark" and Brent Reno sails through the sophisticated "New Sun in The Sky". Mary Callanan delivers a gorgeously sardonic paean to New York, and Valerie Anastasio and Eric Bronner have a ball with an accordion, which matches her sheer, velvet-embossed azure blue gown. (Did I mention the costume changes?)
Having Anastasio, Callanan and Gilbert in one show is like having Lucille Ball, Bea Lilly and Eve Ardent on board. What comic timing this cast possesses. Bree Grieg, Diana Rice and Jolly make being "Miserable" sheer heaven. Reno and Mary Ann Lanier corner the adorable couple department with the sweet "High And Low".
Funnymen Ken Avery, Jim Jordan and Conner make mincemeat of those Civil War melodramas --- but the music is what holds up best: especially a mock French confection called "Hoops" (pronounced of course " 'oops"), an even more negative Nineteen song than the familiar one, and a charming duet for Perkins and Avery. Virtuoso pianist Margaret Ullmer shines in the instrumental solos. So "Worry the Wolf Away" with American Classics. This is indeed a show "that sends you out with a glow".