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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
MUSIC IN THE AIR
at City Center Encores!

BAVARIAN CREAM
By SANDY MACDONALD

  Douglas Sills, Kristin Chenoweth, and Sierra Boggess/Ph: Joan Marcus

The New York City Center Encores! crew are usually pretty astute when it comes to picking properties to revive, so it's a puzzle why they would have chosen a Teutonic-themed turkey like Music in the Air. In his program notes, artistic director Jack Viertel describes this 1932 Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II collaboration as an experiment "that both recalled and made fun of operettas." To modern ears, unattuned to the finer points (homage vs. parody), it plays like the real thing: a toothless, all but pointless piece of fluff.

The only compelling reason to see this production is to observe Kristin Chenoweth - playing prima donna Frieda Hatzfeld, the toast of post World War l Munich - exercising her formidable pipes and comedic chops. Her flawless high C sends shivers up into the Himalayan heights of the prole-priced rear gallery, and her line readings - partially off-book - wrest every conceivable scintilla of wit from the simple-minded scenario.

Here it is, in a nutshell: A mediocre music teacher in the boonies, Dr. Walther Lessing ( Tom Alan Robbins), borrows a melody - you'll likely recognize "I've Told Every Little Star." if only from its 1960s pop incarnation - from a passing songbird and decides to seek publication in the big city - his childhood buddy Ernst Weber (David Schramm, who lends this small part real feeling) is now a bigwig in Munich's music scene. And wouldn't you know, Lessing has an innocent songbird of a daughter, Sieglinde ( Sierra Boggess, on loan from The Little Mermaid) who is also ripe for discovery, much to the consternation of Karl, her as-yet-undeclared schoolmaster boyfriend ( a dully earnest Ryan Silverman).

What little spark the show has to offer resides in the fireworks between cosmopolitan Frieda and her lover of seven years, the self-important playwright Bruno Mahler ( Douglas Sills, who comes off better at cape-swirling than singing - his tenor outbursts are blatty, perhaps intentionally so). The wisp of a plot hangs-on Bruno's instant infatuation for Sieglinde, and Frieda's retaliatory play for Karl. In fact, there's so little going on that a good chunk of Act l is given over to a play-by-play of Bruno's next none-too-promising chef d'oeuvre.

Other than that one catchy tune, it's all schmaltz and plenty of it, with nil in the way of substance to sustain interest. Competent as the orchestra is under musical director Rob Berman's baton, the show is one long (2 1/2 hour), sloppy wash of sentimental song stylings. Amid the schlag-fest, Chenoweth alone rises to the top. And alas, poor Sieglinde: the ingenue, sung with all due breathy naivete by Boggess, goes on an understudy and does not emerge a star.

 

 


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