Gentlemen Prefer Blondes may have played nearly 750 performances on Broadway, turned Carol Channing into a star, featured hit songs like “Bye, Bye, Baby” and “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” and got turned into a Hollywood Movie Classic starring Marilyn Monroe, but when’s the last time you saw it onstage?
The answer may well be “Never,” because that’s what happens to 60something Broadway hits that aren’t Kiss Me Kate, South Pacific, or Guys And Dolls … or rather that’s what would happen without Musical Theatre Guild’s much-loved concert staged readings, the latest of which brings that “little girl from Little Rock,” aka blonde bombshell Lorelei Lee, and her brunette chum Dorothy Shaw, back to entertaining 21st-century musical life.
Yes, there are reasons why Gentlemen Prefer Blondes hasn’t stood the test of time, primarily a book by Joseph Fields and Anita Loos (adapted from Loos’ novel) that runs out of plot by the end of Act One, leaving nothing for Act Two but an extended night club show followed by three perfectly pointless songs and a quick wrap-up.
Still, musical theater composers don’t get much better than Jule Styne, and the characters Loos created way back in 1925 are colorful indeed, beginning with the diamond-loving damsel named Lorelei Lee.
MTG treasures Melissa Fahn and Kim Huber are a perfectly cast Lorelei and Dorothy, who board the ocean liner Ile De France mid-Roaring Twenties, leaving Lorelei’s sugar-daddy beau Gus Esmond, Jr. (Kevin McMahon) behind in the States as they cross the Atlantic bound for Gay Paree and other assorted Villes De France.
Since Lorelei attracts men like sugar attracts flies, it doesn’t take long for admirers to swarm to her side, most notably handsome Philadelphia Main Line scion Henry Spofford III (Will Collyer) and English gentleman Sir Francis “Piggy” Beekman (Paul Keith), even as our blonde heroine frets that Gus might just have found out about a teensy-weensy skeleton in her Little Rock closet.
Meanwhile, Dorothy, despite her less “preferred” darker tresses, finds herself attracting the interest of a couple of well-built Olympic athletes.
Ultimately, though, the harder-edged Dorothy lets Lorelei convince her to eschew gold medals for diamond jewelry, the delicious duo then setting their sights on a pair of better-heeled prospects, Lorelei on health-crazed “zipper king” Josephus Gage (Damon Kirsche) and Dorothy on the equally well-to-do Henry.
Other characters include father-son French detectives Robert and Louis Lemanteur (Doug Carfrae and Jeffrey Scott Parsons) with minimal command of la langue anglaise; dancer Gloria Stark (Jane Papageorge), who believes if she just practices, practices, practices, she’ll becomce a star; Lady Phyllis Beekman (Carol Kline), who’s got a tiara Lorelei would like to call her own; Henry’s tea-totaling but alcohol-craving mother Mrs. Ella Spofford (Marsha Kramer); and Gus’s wheelchair-bound dad Mr. Esmond, Sr. (Chuck Bergman).
Only a few of composer Styne and lyricist Robin’s songs made it into the 20th Century Fox movie adaptation (“A Little Girl from Little Rock,” “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” and “Bye Bye Baby”), with Hoagy Carmichael/Harold Adamson creations completing the soundtrack, so part of the pleasure of seeing Gentlemen Prefer Blondes onstage is in hearing long forgotten Styne/Robin gems like “I Love What I’m Doing,” “It’s Delightful Down In Chile,” and “I’m A’Tingle, I’m A’Glow,” the latter a celebration of constipation-curing “rough, rough, roughage.” (Seriously.)
Director Larry Raben and an all-around stellar cast make the most of Fields and Loos’ flawed book. There are laughs aplenty, one sensational vocal performance after another, and so much dancing—fabulously performed by Jennifer Brasuell, Papageorge, Parsons, Mark C. Reis, and Michael Starr—that you’d swear Lee Martino had choreographed a fully-staged production and not a reading with an Equity-mandated maximum twenty-five hours of rehearsal.
To her already dazzling array of dumb blondes, the divine, Marilyn-channeling Fahn can now add Lorelei Lee, a role she was born to play, and perennial girl-next-door Huber gets to wisecrack to do Eve Arden and Rosalind Russell proud, and both stars sing to perfection.
The always splendid Kirsche shows off comedic chops to match his always velvet vocals while Collyer once again proves himself as likable and talented a leading man as any musical could wish for. Kline’s battleaxe-tastic Lady Phyllis is matched by fellow MTG legends Carfrae, Keith, Kramer, and McMahon in their finely-honed featured turns.
Bergman, Brassuell, Ashley Fox Linton, William Martinez and Starr impress in multiple cameos, with Martinzez’s très statuesque chanteuse française worth “her” own round of applause.
Corey Hirsch musical directs with panache, tickling the ivories quite marvelously while accompanied by an additional four top-notch musicians.
In addition to the choreography barre, each new MTG reading raises the design bar higher, with lighting designer Sean McGarry making costume coordinator A. Jeffrey Schoneberg of AJS Costumes’ stunning 1920s-wear look even more stunning. (Scene-setting projections are a nifty touch as well.)
Additional program credits go to production supervisors Zachary Ford and Reis, production manager Art Brickman, production stage manager Tara Sitser, and assistant stage managers Mara Aguilar and Cara Failer.
As with all MTG concert staged readings, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a one-time thing whose one time has come and gone. Those in attendance this evening can count themselves lucky. Though you’ll likely be seeing Kiss Me Kates, South Pacifics, and Guys And Dolls revived until kingdom come, it’s doubtful anyone else will be bringing Lorelei and Dorothy back to life anytime soon.
The Ann and Jerry Moss Theater, 3131 Olympic Blvd. Santa Monica.
April 12, 2015
Photos: Alan Weston