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A CurtainUp Review
70, Girls, 70
By Elyse Sommer
The Encores! revival fell short of 70 performers, but no matter. Its cast of 22 veterans of some 140 Broadway shows lent enough sparkle to forgive a lusterless book and a somewhat sluggish first act. That said, there were a number of show stoppers, with the one that got the biggest rise out of the audience a delightful song and dance duo between Charlotte Rae and Mark Price, the latter the only non-social security eligible cast member who urged everyone to "Go Visit Your Grandmother."
Though not the success of Chicago (which began its current Broadway run at Encores!) or Cabaret, and without any instantly recognizable standards, 70, Girls, 70, nevertheless has enough of this team's razzle-dazzle beat for this cast of sensational senior citizens to dazzle us with. The shortcomings of the first act notwithstanding, the entire cast started things off disarmingly by casting off canes and shawls and rising from their chairs to form a show-biz line-up of high kickers. It wasn't exactly a high precision kick line but all are still in fine voice and even the less adept dancers were fun to watch.
It would be nice to report that the musical's failure to sustain more than 35 performances when it originally opened on Broadway was a case of the public not yet being ready for a show about a group of senior citizens. But, ahead of its time as the concept may have been, the plot based on play entitled Breath of Spring by Peter Coke, remains contrived and its pleasures derived from the charm of the performers. The story, such as it is, revolves around a group of residents in an upper West Side residential hotel that's fallen on hard time and may have to shut down. Seedy as it is, it's home. And so, under the leadership of Ida Dodd (Olympia Dukakis the only miscast performer, who sings gamely but not well), some of the residents form a sort of Robin Hood gang with a specialty in expensive furs in order to accumulate enough money to buy the Sussex Arms.
The play within a play frame for the caper is rather muddled but it does serve as an excuse for the cast members to liven things up with songs and commentary. As Tina Fabrique's Melba put it at the beginning "We don't care about motivation. We're old enough to stop the show and talk when we want to, sing when we want to." Bob Dishy, Anita Gillette, George S. Irving, Carole Cook, Carleton Carpenter and Gerry Vichi were more than up to whatever is called for and by the final "Boom Ditty Boom" reprise and the touching " Yes" they pulled Dukakis in enough to glance up occasionally from the script which is a standard Encores! prop but in her case seemed to serve more as a lifeline.
One of the best parts of the dual structure was that it made way for an old lady pianist named Lorraine (a most impressive Lalan Parott) to occasionally moves center stage. Parott's "Hit It Lorraine" was a first act high spot.
For anyone who wondered why the orchestra was so much smaller than usual for these concert performances, this was not an economy feature. As Paul Gemignani told the audience who stayed for the Saturday matinee talkback, the orchestra and orchestrations were exactly as in the original Broadway production.
I can't take the advice to visit my grandmother, or even my mother, as both are having their "coffee in a cardboard cup" in the great beyond -- visiting this alive and kicking (literally so) bunch of grandmas and grandpas was the next best thing.
Next up at Encores! (May 11 to15) will be Victor Garbor to star in George and Ira Gershwin's 'Of Thee I Sing, the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize.
The Internet Theatre Bookshop "Virtually Every Play in the World" --even out of print plays
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
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