The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review

" I am positive your honor must be joking.
Any working man can do what i have done.
For a month or two I simply gave up smoking,
and i put my extra pennies one by one
into a little tin box,
a little tin box,
that a little tin key unlocks.
There is nothing unorthodox
about a little tin box
— Ben Marino, in a lyric from one of the show's hit numbers that's still a hit thanks to Shuler Hensley's terrific Ben and his septet of engaging political hacks. "
Danny Rutigliano & Cast
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus)
You surely couldn't ask for a more aptly timed Encores! presentation of the 1960 Tony Award best musical and Pulitzer Prize for drama winner about one of New York's legendary and most colorful three term mayors (1934 to 1945) Fiorello (the Little Flower) LaGuardia. The musical is being reprised as another small of stature but big on ego and self-assurance mayor's third term ends.

It's also an apt launch for the Encores! 20th-anniversary season since it was Mayor LaGuardia who saved the 1923 building where the invaluable concert series makes its home from the wrecking ball and transformed it into Manhattan's first performing arts center. It was none other than His Honor who took to the stage to conduct the national anthem when it opened. And it was at City Center that Fiorello! enjoyed a 16-performance revival in 1962, following its 795 performances at the Broadhurst Theatre , (1959 -/1961).

An unintended and poignant bit of additional synchronicity, another colorful former three-termer, Ed Koch, died on the night a documentary about him opened and this Fiorello! revival got under way. At the risk of sounding crass, no publicist could have dreamed up a better way to drum up interest.

But enough about the apt planned and unplanned timeliness of this show which, for all its awards, isn't nearly as well known as Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's more mature and much produced musicals, like Fiddler on the Roof and She Loves Me. It has some delightful tunes that thanks to a stellar cast and the splendid Encores! orchestra are a pleasure to hear again or for the first time. As directed by Gary Griffin and choreographed by Alex Sanchez, it's a smooth, visually pleasing look at a slice of Big Apple history.

Fiorello!'s status as a neglected work can be attributed to the requirement for a generally unaffordable big cast and the structural weaknesses that tend to afflict early works. The latter pertain to an insubstantial book and musical elements that often detour instead of not organically expanding on the story.

The show is essentially a musicalized biography covering twenty years of the feisty Little Flower's personal and career trajectory — The first act covers his days as a workaholic lawyer to his run for Congress, his service in World War 1, to his marriage to a beautiful Italian showroom model. Act Two jumps ahead ten years to his first campaign. It ends with his regaining his spirit after being defeated by Jimmy Walker and devastated by the death of his wife and ready to run and marry again.

Despite building up the title character with some lyrics added to give him a solo reprise for "The Name's LaGuardia after the second act's reprise of "Gentleman Jimmy," this is still a rather sketchy picture of LaGuardia. Blessed as it is with a truly stellar cast, this production is an enjoyable artefact rather than a flawless, consistently thrilling treasure. The shortened concert version by the original co-librettist's son John Weidman, possibly exacerbates rather than alleviates the enduring structural weaknesses.

About that stellar cast. If I had to single out one standout in this large and able cast, it would be the Shuler Hensley as the savvy Pol Ben Morino whose advisce LaGuardia ignored in his losing campaign but with whom he wisely resumed relations Hensley who has not had too many chances to play a fun character ( I first got to admire him as the dangerously dark Jud in the last Broadway revival of Oklahoma and more recently watched him as a dying, grossly obese man in The Whale) is a delightful Guys and Dolls kind of guy, who speaks with a raspy voice but has a wonderfully clear singing voice. The show soars and sizzles whenever the action shifts to Ben Marino's club house. Ben and his septet of political hacks bring enough sparkle two of the show's best tunes — "Policies and Poker" and "Little Tin Box" — to make you understand Fiorello! long and award winning Broadway run.

My putting Hensley front and center in my comments on the performances doesn't mean that Danny Rutigliano isn't fine in the title role. He's got the built and pugnacious personality to be made for the role. He sings and moves energetically and well. Too bad he's somehow charisma-challenged and had me keep wishing I'd seen Tom Bosley who became a star playing LaGuardia on Broadway.

As Thea, the tall Italian beauty he woos and wins, Kate Baldwin doesn't have much to dig into in the way of acting, but she does stop the show with her gorgeous rendition of "When Did I Fall In Love?" Erin Dilly plays Marie, the stereotypical wise and sassy Girl Friday to the hilt. Unsurprisingly just as she tells Morris (the very fine Adam Heller), her fellow LaGuardia aide that she's going to "Marry The Very Next Man," her boss finally picks up the torch she's been carrying and proposes. That bring the show to somewhat jarringly abrupt end, leaving the audience to Google anything they want to know about the LaGuardia administration that followed.

Other highlights before that abrupt ending throws a spotlight on Thea's seamstress friend Dora (played with charm and verve by Jenn Gambatese). Her romance with Floyd McDuff (Jeremy Bobb) adds a secondary romance and the perky "I Love a Cop." Dora and Floyd's move up in the world also paves the way for a chance to bring on Emily Skinner as nightclub entertainer Mitzi Travers to help them entertain a group of big wigs in their penthouse to belt out a jazzy "Gentleman Jim." The big-voiced Skinner's many fans were unlikely to complain that this number doesn't really belong and could easily have streamlined this version some more.

Typical of recent editions of the script-in-hand format, there's little reliance on those scripts and what you see is very much a finished show though with minimal sets to keep the focus on Rob Berman and the Encores! orchestra. In this case the scenery consists mainly of some much moved around crates.

While this production won't send anyone home saying "No wonder Fiorello! beat out Gypsy for the Pulitzer Prize" The Pulitzer committee was probably swayed by the political timeliness of LaGuardia's attack on the prevailing self-serving business tycoons and political hacks. However, Gypsy which was also done by Encores is a masterpiece while Fiorello! is entertaining but its composer/lyricist's fledgling effort that they themselves surpassed with more timeless works. And, while Gypsy became one of Encores! productions with legs for a Broadway transfer (Reviews at Encores! and on Broadway), the Fiorello! production is likely to be part of the Encores! category of grab-it-while-you-can treats.

Book by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott
Music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Gary Griffin
Music director, Rob Berman
Choreography by Alex Sanchez
Cast: Kate Baldwin (Thea), Jeremy Bobb (Floyd McDuff), Ray DeMattis (Mr. Zappatella), Erin Dilly (Marie), Jenn Gambatese (Dora), Adam Heller (Morris), Shuler Hensley (Ben Marino), Richard Ruíz (Mr. Lopez), Danny Rutigliano (Fiorello La Guardia), Andrew Samonsky (Neil), Emily Skinner (Mitzi Travers) and Cheryl Stern (Mrs. Pomerantz).
Sets by John Lee Beatty
Costumes by Jess Goldstein
Lighting by Ken Billington
Sound by Scott Lehrer
Concert adaptation by John Weidman
Music coordinator: Seymour Red Press
Original orchestrations by Irwin Kostal;
A New York City Center Encores! Productionat City Center, 131 West 55th Street, Manhattan; (212) 581-1212, Through 2/02/13
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes with 1 intermissiojn
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer February 1st matinee
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture/Orchestra PROLOGUE
  • On the Side of the Angels/Neil, Morris, Mr. Zappatella, Mr. Lopez, Mrs. Pomerantz & Marie
  • Politics and Poker/"Ben, Dealer & Five Card Players Unfair/Dora, Girls & Fiorello Marie's Law/Marie & Morris
  • The Name's LaGurFiorello & Company
  • The Bum Won/Ben, Dealer & Five Card Players
  • I Love a Cop/Dora
  • SI Love a Cop (Reprise)/Dora & Floyd Till Tomorrow/Thea, Marie, Morris, Neil & Company
  • Home Again/Company
  • Act Two
    • Entr'acte/Orchestra
    • When Did I Fall in Love?/Thea Gentleman JimmyMitzi & Girls
    • Gentleman Jimmy (Reprise)/Company
    • The Name's LaGuardia (Reprise)/Fiorello
    • Little Tin Box/Ben & Politicians
    • The Very Next Man/Marie
    • Politics and Poker (Reprise)/Ben & Politicians
    • The Very Next Man (Reprise)/Marie
    • The Name's LaGuardia (Finale)/Company
    Highlight one of the responses below and click copy or CTRL+C
    • I agree with the review of Fiorello
    • I disagree with the review of Fiorello
    • The review made me eager to see Fiorello
    Click on the address link E-mail:
    Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

    Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

    Visit Curtainup's Blog Annex
    For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
    Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
    Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
    put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message. If you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
    Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
    Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free

    Anything Goes Cast Recording Anything Goes Cast Recording
    Our review of the show

    Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
    Our review of the show

    ©Copyright 2013, Elyse Sommer.
    Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from