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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES
at City Center

GLITTERY GIRL FROM LITTLE ROCK
By JOANNE KAUFMAN

  Megan Hilty and Rachel York/ Ph: Joan Marcus

The news is full of terrible tales of racism, ageism, sexism – inequality and injustice of all stripes. My heart bleeds. But where, pray tell, is the press coverage for the group that for decades – centuries! – has fought and prevailed in the face of relentless discrimination: blondes.

Really, they can’t win. People assume they’re dumb. People assume they’re, um, easy. People assume they’re not REALLY blond.

Blondes are dumb all right, dumb like a fox. Take, for example, that old little girl from Little Rock Lorelei Lee. (And never mind that many already have.) As embodied by Megan Hilty in the terrific Encores production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, that archetypal towhead Lorelei is a girl who’s clearly meant to run the world.

The 1949 Jule Styne-Leo Robin musical starring Carol Channing was very much of its time, full of extended song and dance numbers that did nothing to move the teeny tiny plot along, full of jokes about the overuse of alcohol and those strange creatures known as foreigners.

Based on a series of 1920s magazine pieces by Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes chronicles the rise and rise of Lorelei Lee (Hilty), a gold-digging, good-time, good-hearted flapper who speaks English as though it were her second language, who is vague about pronouns but clear on propositions, and who has a thought process with its own peculiar logic: “Just because he has money,” she says at one point, “doesn’t mean he can’t be endured.”

Sailing to Europe without her wealthy fiancé Gus Esmond (Clarke Thorell) – she always calls him Mr. Esmond – who has to stay in New York to mind his button business, the buoyant Lorelei puts her time on the Atlantic to good use. She makes new friends (The men’s U.S. Olympic team), attracts some elderly admirers and does a little match-making on behalf of her friend and chaperone Dorothy Shaw (Rachel York). Back on dry land, there are a few crises involving a be-jeweled tiara and a fiancé who questions his betrothed’s steadfastness. Never fear. Lorelei’s here.

It’s all quite delectable, especially with the terrific ensemble, and songs like “I’m Just a Little Girl from Little Rock” and “Bye, Bye Baby” (which is performed, delightfully if anachronistically, a la The Pied Pipers). Hilty hits all her marks as Lorelei – the tiptoeing walk as though afraid of waking a sleeping friend, the breathy voice, the exaggerated poses – and her big bright voice is always welcome (but TWO reprises of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”?) Perhaps it’s asking a lot to wish she had breathed some new life into an old archetype; still, it was a long stretch of too much. 

All the more reason to be grateful for the superlative York, whose jazz-chick voice makes even so-so songs worth hearing, and who gives a top-sin to every line-reading. I don’t pretend to speak for gentlemen – but I preferred the brunette.

 


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