BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Megan Hilty, who portrays the blonde chorus babe contending for the role of Marilyn Monroe in a Broadway-bound show in the TV series “Smash,” appears this weekend as Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
Since Monroe enjoyed a major splash playing the dumb-as-a-fox Lorelei in the later screen version of this 1949 musical comedy, Hilty’s presence here as the titular blonde is a sweet piece of casting.
Pleasantly revived in a staged concert format by Encores! at New York City Center on Wednesday, “Gentleman Prefer Blondes” combines a very flimsy, very silly script with an enjoyably brassy, melodic score from composer Jule Styne and lyricist Leo Robin.
Co-writers Anita Loos (who hit it rich with her 1925 bestseller) and Joseph Fields send the gold-digging Lorelei and her wisecracking brunette chum Dorothy on a transatlantic voyage where they tangle with various wealthy gents – and let’s otherwise skip the deets on the thin story, which is all too glad to pause frequently for songs and dances. Since the numbers are so agreeable, nobody minds.
Although the show mildly satirizes the Roaring Twenties, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” musically sounds far more like 1950, despite occasional vo-de-oh-doh flourishes in Don Walker’s original orchestrations. Music director Rob Berman leads the 30-member onstage orchestra energetically through Styne’s score. Hugh Martin’s jazzy vocal arrangements for the chorus are richly textured even if they, too, have scant acquaintance with the story’s period.
Squeezed into several curvaceous ensembles, Hilty confidently trots through the proceedings as a rather hard-boiled Lorelei seemingly modeled more after a va-va-vooming Monroe rather than Carol Channing, who is said to have originated the role onstage as a cartoonish flapper. A strong, fresh-voiced singer who assumes a mild Arkansas accent for Lorelei, Hilty scores neatly with a spirited “I’m Just a Little Girl from Little Rock” and later marches determinedly through the comical verses of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” like a seasoned campaigner in the battle of the sexes.
A breezy Rachel York offers cheerful company as Dorothy whose vigorous “I Love What I’m Doing” dance number with some barely-clad chorus boys (playing an Olympics team aboard the boat) looks dandy. Giving these leading ladies surprising competition is Megan Sikora in the minor role of a tap-happy showgirl whose two whirlwind routines had the audience cheering, especially so for a hard-driving “Mamie is Mimi” nightclub sequence paired with ace hoofers Phillip Attmore and Jared Grimes.