Urie, Kevin Chamberlin photos Joan Marcus
High Button Shoes
by David Schultz & Jeanne Lieberman
This is the 75th anniversary of Encores! the immensely successfuli concert series
dedicated to performing rarely heard American musicals, Presented by New York City Center since 1994, Its first production, Fiorello! (1959),
was sold out in hours.
Their selections have reached back as far as
the 1925 production of No,.No, Nanette.
When they first started all they had was the cast on book,
reading the script in simple black dresses or male equivalent, with no scenery
and a very few minimal steps to indicate where the choreography was in the
It’s come along way now from its primitive beginnings.
The concept of having the 27-piece Encores! orchestra, larger
than most Broadway pit bands, conducted by Encores! Music
Director Rob Berman, on stage
indicates that it's all about the music. And they take pride in researching,
replicating and preserving original scores.
The result is that the audience is rewarded by experiencing the initial
sound of the shows, from whatever decade, a unique phenomenon indeed in these
budget driven times.
There’s just no music like this anymore (witness the severely
truncated, guitar picking, banjo strumming handful of musicians in the current
version of the formerly glorious Oklahoma!)
The Encores! typically savvy audience is buoyed by and exults in
the energy coming from the stage. Where do you find happiness like this?
Additionally Encores! has somehow managed to produce some
spectacular choreographic moments, evocative scenic designs and lavish
costumes, so much so that some of its productions have traveled intact to the Broadway
stage (Chicago is still running, a producer's dream, barely enhanced
since its original Encores! 1975 production)
All this is evident in their most recent production of
High Button Shoes, Jule Styne’s first
Broadway hit which won Jerome
Robbins his first Tony Award for choreography ( years
before West Side Story and Gypsy other
the misadventures of two charismatic conmen—Harrison Floy (Michael Urie) and Mr.
Chamberlin)—as they proceed to bamboozle Sara Longstreet (Betsy Wolfe) and her
family—inciting a chase from New Brunswick, down the Jersey Shore, to Atlantic
City.The cast also features Aidan
Alberto (Stevie), Jennifer Allen (Shirley Simpkins), Carla Duren (Fran), Chester Gregory (Papa
Hull (Nancy), Marc
Koeck (Oggle), Matt
Loehr (Uncle Willy),and Wayne Pretlow (Elmer Simpkins)
Yes, indeed the musical is old fashioned in every aspect.
Originally performed in 1947 the overture runs through all of the motifs that
will play out in the evening. The sheer breadth of the orchestra is gorgeous.
From the moment that the curtain goes up and you hear the
orchestra you get the full effect of the old-fashioned musicals that we seem to
be missing these days, where the trend is to minimize rather than extol the
The show as a whole is, yes creaky and way, way dated for the
current era of 2019. But if one can just relax, take a deep breath and imagine
yourself back 60 or 70 decades ago, this light hearted romp is a nice tonic to
remember a more innocent time. Was it ever that pure and innocent? Probably
Would that the actual music and lyrics when fully played out were
as memorable. But there is much fun at hand nonetheless.
The structure of the show is so primitive, basic and obvious especially
in the second act where every featured player is given their moment in the
spotlight in a series of jewels. Among the highlights of the evening are an
awkward, romantic tango danced by Matt Loehr and Mylinda Hull,
a lovely duet "I Still Get Jealous" sung by Chester
Gregory and Betsy Wolfe between the husband and the wife and their tap dance, a
number between the football player and the daughter, the Con Man and his
sidekick. These are all democratic and they work but would such an obvious
structure be excepted in today’s sophisticated musicals? Fortunately the cast
was up to it and each shown in the spotlight given them in numbers that have
lived on like “Papa, Won’t You Dance with Me” and “On a Sunday by the
And the astounding Keystone Cop ballet "Bathing Beauty
Ballet". Carefully reconstructed by Sarah O' Gleby from the original
choreography by Jerome Robbins this 10 minute miracle is breathtaking in its
complexity and one of the most amusing heart stopping outlandish set pieces in
recent or past memory. All the principles descend at the beach in Atlantic City in a whirlwind of activity. Keystone cops, bathing beauties, the nefarious
two con men, fellow denizens of the town, a large satchel of ill gotten money
is chased and misplaced, and throw in a large gorilla into the mix and
well....trust me...this 10 minute sequence will stick with you for a long time.
One wonders how so many people can avoid bumping into each other
with only the slight four days that they have to rehearse encores is it truly a
This ridiculously low brow bon bon might make you crave to have
been there in audience back in 47'. Playing for almost 2 years after its debut,
they must have struck a nerve with the populace back then. Forget the wafer thin
plot, this High Button Shoes revival still sparkles with energetic
choreography. That 10 minute ballet is sheer musical nirvana.
What a delicious way to end the 75th Anniversary season!
Encores! Off-Center 2019 Season
June 26 – 29
July 10 & 11 .
July 24 – 27
Theater and Box Office
131 W 55th St (between Sixth and Seventh avenues)
New York, NY 10019