“We’d be crazy to give up our dreams.” This line from Pazzazz! may well be Milt Larsen and Richard Sherman’s own sentiment. Their longstanding dream for a musical about late-19th-century Broadway theater has finally come to fruition in a sparkling premiere at the Granada Theatre.
Although the creators might not describe their musical as “nostalgic,” the story nevertheless conjures up images of old-fashioned glamour. In the opening hustle-and-bustle scene of modern life, the busy folk pace by, oblivious to the statue of the late Broadway performer George Cohan. So Cohan, his bronze exterior still glittering, comes to life to tell the story of a bygone era. This delightful device felt like stepping onto one of Burt’s chalk squares and emerging in the fantastic world of Mary Poppins.
As the young George Cohan, Adam Wylie conveys irrepressible optimism. His wide smile, ethereal tap dancing, and fierce loyalty to his family all account for his lovability. His innocence is complemented by the more experienced producers and comedians (and his mentors), Weber and Fields (Joey D’Auria and Joshua Finkel, respectively). To give the audience love and pazzazz-meaning excitement and fun-is their motto. The show’s 17 musical numbers reenact the kind of original performances that would have taken place at a small independent theater on Broadway in that era. In the role of famous diva Lillian Russell, Dale Kristien sings “A Moth in Flame” in a crystal-clear voice that is immediately recognizable from her performances as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera. Kristien’s talent for slapstick is readily apparent in “Cleo, the Queen of the Nile,” which is an entertaining spoof of Shakespeare’s plays.
As a period piece, Pazzazz! is most evocative in its use of early comedic style. “It will be a sad day when we forget to laugh at ourselves,” assert Weber and Fields as they proceed to mock foreign accents or a newcomer’s fear of the dentist. Their victory over the crafty crooks who sabotage the opening night of Weber & Fields’ The New Electrical Spectacle is of course most satisfying. Overall, the show brims with good humor, faith in honest deeds, and hope for a bright future.
The more than 150 costumes designed by Arlene Larsen are a sensuous feast. The carefully choreographed large group scenes are particularly enticing, and the historic set design deserves a special notice. Distinctly American, musicals-like dreams-never go out of style.