BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Due to a record industry dispute with musicians in 1948, no original cast recording was ever made for “Where’s Charley?,” which from all accounts was a triumph for its star, Ray Bolger, and represented songwriter Frank Loesser’s auspicious Broadway debut.
With any luck, the nifty Encores! concert version of “Where’s Charley?” that bowed Thursday for a weekend stint at New York City Center will be recorded. Loesser’s score is charming and so is the show.
Beautifully sung and brightly acted, the production staged by director John Doyle offers an aptly breezy account of a light-hearted musical that’s as refreshing as the first breath of springtime.
Drawn from the 1890s British farce “Charley’s Aunt,” the story spins around an Oxford student, Charley, who dives into Victorian old lady drag for complications involving sweethearts, chaperones, roomies and guardians. It’s silly but sweet entertainment, trimmed by Doyle to a swift two hours.
Loesser’s fetching score features the sing-a-long standard “Once in Love With Amy” and a variety of catchy selections that include a march, several yummy ballads and a mock-Brazilian samba. Performing the show’s original orchestrations, music director Rob Berman and his onstage orchestra do handsomely by the score and get extra credit for their comical fluffs in the middle of “The New Ashmolean Marching Society and Student Conservatory Band.”
Prettily dressed in period pastels by Ann Hould-Ward, the 23-member ensemble brings fresh voices and high spirits to the music. One and all, the leading players are a delightful group.
Effortlessly assuming Bolger’s role is Rob McClure, a bright-eyed fellow who once played Charley in his hometown New Milford’s high school production of the musical. Whether wooing Lauren Worsham’s perky Amy in the upbeat “Make a Miracle” duet or frantically tearing across the stage in voluminous petticoats and a sausage-curl wig as Charley’s supposed auntie, the cheerful McClure at all times is an expert, engaging song-and-dance man who makes everything look easy and natural.
Former “Phantom of the Opera” costars Rebecca Luker and Howard McGillin are reunited as slightly more mature sweethearts (also reunited in the plot-line), bringing their ravishing musicality to “Lovelier Than Ever” — and lovely they are, too. A clear-voiced pair, Sebastian Arcelus and Jill Paice do very ably as other Oxford lovebirds. They’d all sound great on the recording.
The one crucial element that a recording would not convey is the airy nature and amusing visual touches arising in the light-footed choreography created by Alex Sanchez. The rubber-kneed moves that Sanchez gives McClure to perform in his “Amy” soft-shoe routine recall Bolger as his Scarecrow character in “The Wizard of Oz,” while Sanchez’s larger dance numbers suggest both the 1890s era of the story and just a bit of the 1940s era in which the musical was born. That’s elegant.
“Where’s Charley” continues through Sunday at New York City Center, 131 W. 55th St., New York. Call (212) 581-1212 or visit www.nycitycenter.org.