Beware what you wish for, especially when it comes to old Broadway musicals, unrealistically enhanced by memory over the years into giants of the musical comedy genre. Case in point: Irma La Douce, a musical that hit Broadway (The Plymouth) in the fall of 1960, beguiling theatergoers with its exuberance and charm, with an outstanding cast led by Elizabeth Seal (Irma), Keith Michell (Nestor -Le-Fripe) and Clive Revill (Bob-Le-Hotu). Add in a pleasant score, some semi-memorable tunes, such as "Our Language of Love" and "Christmas Child," and voila, the show chalked up more than 1,000 performances.
Unfortunately, City Center Encores has come along in its last production of the season and destroyed that mythic illusion. Its production of Irma La Douce is as flat as a three-day-old crepe suzette. There's no energy, no joie de vive. Ironically.it ranks up there with the 1963 movie version of Irma, which forgot it was supposed to be a musical and took out all the music, leaving a mystified Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemon with creme brulee on their faces.
What had been quaint 50-plus years ago comes across as hopelessly dated in 2014. And the leads don't help matters. There is absolutely no chemistry between Jennifer Bowles as Irma and Rob McClure as Nestor. And the usually very able Malcolm Gets as Bob-Le Hotu, the narrator of the tale, seems far removed from the story he is telling. Director John Doyle, who also adapted the production, has not found a way to breathe life into this relic, even with the elaborate set provided by John Lee Beatty. Truth be told, this tale of the sweet-natured prostitute and her naive boyfriend is not of this time and place.
Luckily, there'll always be that worn LP or CD to keep alive the true spirit of this gone, but not forgotten, musical.