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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the City Center

By Bill Stevenson

  Christine Ebersole & Co/PH: Joan Marcus

For those of us who had never seen the 1970 musical Applause, there were plenty of reasons to look forward to the staging by Encores! After all, it's based on one of the all-time great movies, All About Eve, featuring a brilliant script by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and one of Bette Davis' very best performances. The musical's creative team was impressive: book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, music by Charles Strouse , and lyrics by Lee Adams. Adding to the sense of anticipation, Christine Ebersole would star as Margo Channing, the role that earned Lauren Bacall a Tony Award.

Would this be one of those Encores! revivals that restores a seldom-seen musical to its rightful place in the Broadway pantheon? Unfortunately, no. Despite the source material, creative team, cast, and a few peppy dance routines from director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall, Applause proved to be a second-rate show, boasting just a few songs worthy of the cabaret circuit. Only Christine Ebersole, who happened to be battling the flu, didn't disappoint.

To be fair, the supporting actors did their best to keep the bloated, dated show afloat. Kate Burton was perfectly cast as Margo's best friend Karen Richards. She even sounded a bit like Celeste Holm, who played the character in the 1950 film. And as Margo's wardrobe assistant, Mario Cantone admirably resisted the urge to camp it up-at least until there was a chance to do a dead-on Bette Davis impersonation.

Erin Davie ( who played young Edie in Grey Gardens opposite Ebersole) took on the challenging role of Eve Harrington, the seemingly shy fan from the provinces who worms her way into Margo's life. Davie was convincing early on, but she never showed the ruthless, scheming ambition the role calls for. It didn't help that Davie's first solo, The Best Night of My Life, is rather drab and her big second-act song, One Hallowe'en isn't any better. As Margo's love interest Bill Sampson, Michael Park looked the part of the dashing director and clicked with Ebersole in their scenes together.But he wasn't a match as a singer when they shared duets. Rounding out the supporting cast were Tom Hewitt as producer Howard Benedict, Chip Zien as playwright Buzz Richards, and Megan Sikora as lead dancer/gypsy Bonnie. For some reason, Comden and Green didn't include one of the film's most memorable characters, acid-tongued critic Addison DeWitt. His scathing wit would have enlivened the show's humdrum book.

Not surprisingly, Margo gets most of the good lines in the show, and Ebersole delivered the zingers flawlessly. Isn't she a treasure? she says of Eve. I think I'll bury her. Margo also gets the show's best songs. In the first act she leads the disco-dancing ensemble number But Alive, sings the pretty ballad Hurry Back, and delivers an upbeat first-act finale Welcome to the Theatre. Flu or no flu, Ebersole sounder terrific. ( And she no doubt hit a lot of high-notes Bacall never got anywhere near.)

The most that can be said for Applause is that it has a few decent songs and offers a juicy role for a Hollywood diva like Bacall or a Broadway diva like Ebersole. Otherwise, it's a not-so-hot musical adaptation of a classic film. Like Bacall before her, Ebersole gave the singing-dancing-and-boozing star turn her fans came to see. Rising above her material, Ebersole added much-needed fizz to a flat show that can now be laid to rest for another 38 years.


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