Little Me

City Center
New York, NY
Wealth, culture and social position, that's all this gal from Drifters' Row needs.  Belle Poitrine (Rachel York), who was born Schlumpfert on the wrong side of the tracks, meets Noble Eggleston (Christian Borles), the richest kid in Venezuela, Illinois.  Their fingers touch and the world stops but alas, Noble's mother will have none of this poor urchin.  Eventually love conquers all, but only after a boatload of wacky, sexy adventures.  For the audience, it's a laugh-packed couple of hours at New York City Center's Encores! revival of Neil Simon¹s Little Me, totally nutty with first-class performances, memorable songs by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, plus Josh Bernasse's acrobatic choreography.

If Little Me has everything, how come the original 1962 production directed by Cy Feuer with Bob Fosse's choreography and starring Sid Caesar closed after 257 performances?   Could this musical even survive without Sid Caesar?  Said Neil Simon, the play was written for Caesar to showboat his repertoire of characters.  Few other comics could step more definitively through the seven parts -- the naive socialite (Noble Eggelston), stingy Amos Pinchley, myopic soldier (Fred Poitrine), French vaudevillian (Val Du Val), no-nonsense over-the-hill German film director (Otto Schnitzler) and impoverished Prince Cherney.  Enter the versatile Christian Borle, who slips and slides portraying the seven characters his own way.

Little Me is based on Patrick Dennis' novel, Auntie Mame, and Belle could be considered the little cousin of the irrepressible Mame Dennis.  Reporter Patrick Dennis (David Garrison) is hired to interview an older Belle who has now become the grand dame of Southampton.  This Belle of a certain age is played by Judy Kaye, who narrates her life of rags to riches, while Rachel York scores as the striving younger Belle, making the most of her ample assets (in French, her name says it all).  After Belle and Nobel fall in love, his mother, played by the hilarious Harriet Harris (who has never met a stage she can't steal), puts a stop to this unwelcome floozy without wealth, culture, and social position, so Belle is emboldened to better herself and prove her worth.  She finds a series of romantic possibilities which happen to die and leave her closer to her goal.

Belle's road takes her from the turn of the 20th century through major events, like the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, the roaring twenties and the Great Depression.  With ebullient music direction by Rob Berman, composer Coleman with Leigh's sharp lyrics reflect the rollicking roll through the decades with a score of parodies -- "The Rich Kids' Rag" and the vaudeville rhythm of "Be a Performer," performed by Lewis J. Stadlen, Lee Wolkoff and Rachel York.  The company delivers a square dance bounce to "Deep Down Inside” and Tony Yazbek shows off his terpsichorean limberness working the tables and chairs in "I've Got Your Number."  Borle, as the myopic soldier, longs for "A Real Live Girl."  York yanks you to her side as a teen yearning for "The Other Side of the Tracks" and she proves  an offbeat but affable match with Borle when they promise, "I Love You (As Much As I Am Able)."  York also proves herself a comic delight singing "Little Me" with Judy Kaye.

In this concert version, time flies and so does the action under Randy's crackerjack direction, especially zipping through Act I.  Paul Tazewell designed a full production's worth of bright, period costumes for the cast of 29 and John Lee Beatty's sets move around like puzzle pieces.  Little Me is a showpiece for Christian Borle, who exhibits the whole kit and caboodle of oddball characters with whiz-bang perception.  Rachel York exhibits her glamour girl veneer with always a hint of the little girl from the wrong side of the tracks peeking through.  It's a shiny tour de force all around, a breezy laugh-riot that audiences today could appreciate.

(Photo: Rachel York and Christian Borle by Joan Marcus)

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Cabaret Scenes
February 6, 2014
www.cabaretscenes.org