Means, Mark Evans photos Joan Marcus
At New York City Center
by Julia Polinsky
theater aficionado doesn’t love a Rodgers and Hart score? Just knowing that
Encores! was doing their dance musical, I Married an Angel, was enough
to tip off anticipation. The cream on top? Director and choreographer Joshua
Bergasse cast his wife, New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns, as
Angel, paralleling the original 1938 pairing of choreographer George Balanchine
and his wife, ballerina Vera Zorina.
anticipation! Such eager looking-forward! Such a disappointment, although
that’s not Encores! fault, or Bergasse’s, or anyone involved. Encores! did its
usual first-rate presentation. I Married an Angel itself is just not
good – it lacks coherence, it’s a little stupid, and has only one really good
song (“Spring is Here”).
in the day, it was possible to write a plot about Count Willy Palaffi (a
charming performance from Mark Evans), a jaded bachelor banker living
the high society life in Budapest, who “hates women” and swears he will only
marry an angel. Poof! A real angel (the exquisite Sara Mearns) dances onstage
and into his heart (“I Married an Angel”). They marry immediately, of course.
Then things get complicated.
of the 1930s require a healthy dose of the willing suspension of disbelief, and
it can be fun to enjoy that experience. However, I Married an Angel also comes with a
whopping dose of misogyny, one that cannot be edited out by any script doctor
on the planet.
James, Tom Robbins
odd choice for revival in the #MeToo era, I Married an Angel has two
kinds of women: scheming, duplicitous gold diggers, or, well, angels. Contrast
Willy’s sister, Countess Peggy Palaffi (the wonderful Nikki M. James), with
Angel. Countess Peggy has been married four times and when an old flame, the
wealthy Harry “Noodles” Szigetti (Tom Robbins) reappears, angles for a fifth
(“I’ll Tell the Man in the Street”). They make a deal, when the somewhat
reluctant Noodles agrees to marry Countess Peggy and save brother
Willy’s bank, if Peggy can prove her brother is happily married.
embodies otherworldly naivete and innocence; she cannot lie or deal with social
values and behaviors. She tells uncomfortable truths in the midst of her
husband’s high-society cocktail party, ruining her marriage and causing a run
on her husband’s bank.
broken-hearted Count Willy leaves her, believing she doesn’t love him. (“Spring
is Here,”) Duplicity to the rescue! Countess Peggy teaches Angel to lie, flirt,
and deceive (“A Twinkle in Your Eye”), all for the greater good of saving her
marriage and the bank.
threads cross and tangle into a frothy cat’s cradle of women manipulating men
into supporting them. Subplots involve Willy’s assistant, Peter Mueller
(Phillip Attmore) and his romance with the brash American girl, Anna Murphy
(Hayley Podschun), who wants to be someone’s well-compensated mistress. Not
content with Peter, Anna also targets the wealthy “Noodles,” creating a
catfight between her and Countess Peggy.
The story is the least important part of I Married an Angel; clearly,
the show exists as a vehicle for the dancing. Oh, what dancing! Bergasse
directed and choreographed I Married an Angel as a showcase for his
exquisite-ballerina wife; she dances a major ballet sequence in each act. They
make zero sense, being shoehorned into the absurd plot, but are beautiful to
watch, particularly the eye-filling and gorgeous second act knockout, “Othello:
A Surrealist Ballet.”
the tap numbers steal the show. Hayley Podschun and Phillip Attmore kick the
Act 1 showstopper, “How To Win Friends and Influence People,” into the highest
of high gear. It’s pure Broadway, and a reminder that before WWII, spreading
American ideas and values could be done with a song, a smile and a killer
change step. The second act’s “At the Roxy Music Hall” was even better, leading
to the several fantasy dances, some of which were eye-poppingly odd -- “Harry’s
Fantasy,” in particular.
traditional 1930s Broadway Show fashion, romance triumphs; people pair off, and
everyone’s happy in the end, and there’s a rousing, tuneful finale, with the
Encores! orchestra, led by music director Rob Fisher, sounding the best it’s
ever sounded. What a pleasure it was, to hear that old-fashioned Broadway
sound, in the original orchestrations by Hans Spialek. It matched the
gorgeousness of Alejo Vietti’s costume design; it’s hard to decide what’s
better, the beautiful gowns, or the terrific costuming for the dance fantasy
sequences, with the “Othello” ballet as a peak.
may present “staged readings,” but I Married an Angel felt fleshed out
and solid. It’s a pity the story isn’t worthy of Encores! beautiful job.
I Married an Angel
Encores! At New
York City Center
W 55th St
(between Sixth and Seventh avenues)