Although it is generally considered a classic, the relentlessly silly, fast-paced musical comedy Little Me, which sports an absolutely dynamic score by composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Carolyn Leigh and a one liner-packed book by Neil Simon, has never really gotten its full due.
The original 1962 production with Sid Caesar (who was once Simon’s boss) ran only about half a year and never gained the same acclaim as How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which premiered around the same time. Maybe Little Me needed a bigger title.
Two subsequent Broadway revivals that tinkered with the show’s structure were flops, causing Little Me to be looked upon as a one-time star vehicle for Caesar with a loose structure resembling old-school revues. But as seen in City Center’s jubilant and dizzying concert revival, it’s time may have arrived at last.
Little Me is essentially a jam-packed series of comic vignettes contained within a parody of a celeb autobiography. As the high-profile Belle Poitrine (Judy Kaye) narrates her life story to writer Patrick Dennis (i.e. the boy from Mame), another actress (Rachel York) portrays her younger self as Belle grows up dirt poor, falls head over heels for the super-rich Noble Eggelston (Christian Borle) and sets out to win him by gaining money, culture and social position.
In the process, Belle runs across a zany collection of suitors, nearly all of whom are played by Borle, including a Scrooge-like landlord, a French nightclub entertainer who suffers from amnesia, a European prince who is perpetually on his deathbed and a frail but cheery World War I soldier.
While York plays up Belle’s sunny naivety and sex appeal and Kaye displays the same regal presence from her Tony-winning performance in Nice Work if You Can Get It, Borle injects larger-than-life vitality and vaudevillian spirit into each of his many characters. Besides slapping on a new accent, his portrayal of each character is largely the same, though it’s not as if these are three-dimensional roles. Tony Yazbeck (A Chorus Line, On the Town) also steals the stage in the swinging, dance-filled “I’ve Got Your Number.”
As staged by John Rando, the Encores! Little Me is an uneven and outstretched but extremely appetizing feast of lively tunes, jazzy orchestrations, farcical scenarios and athletic choreography. One can’t help but wonder if the musical would succeed if it transferred to Broadway, where it might play nicely alongside its contemporary descendent The Book of Mormon.