Sugar daddies

I’ve been going to the Encores series a long time, and I can’t recall having a better time than I did at their current offering, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Every minute made me deliriously happy.  Several of the Leo Robin-Jule Styne songs were so good, I had tears rolling down my face, just because they were so well written.  Encores has a notoriously short rehearsal schedule, yet, under the helm of John Rando, all the performers gave top-notch performances.  And the Randy Skinner dances were spectacular and entertaining.

Lorelei Lee is embodied (with an emphasis on the body) by Megan Hilty and her take on the character bears no resemblance to the old movie take of Marilyn Monroe.  I mention this because Hilty’s fame and fan-base has very little to do with her two Broadway appearances: replacement Glinda in Wicked and the Dolly Parton role in the Dolly Parton flop musical, 9 to 5. This Encores is selling out the incredibly large City Center because Miss Hilty appears on a television program in which she plays an actress vying to star in a musical biography of Marilyn Monroe.  Low-rated though the series is, it’s created significant interest in what Hilty will do with what’s seen as Marilyn Monroe iconic role.  But one of the first things you notice is what a very different beast the stage show is from the movie: Lorelei was originally Carol Channing, and it’s not a star vehicle. There’s vast amounts of time when the preferred blonde is not on stage.

So it’s a good thing the other comediennes are similarly engaging. Rachel York brings warmth and panache to her many numbers, including Sunshine, which blithely switches back and forth between English and first-semester French.  (It’s a song I often find myself humming, when the weather is nice.) Megan Sikora is a tap-dancing fiend, while Deborah Rush and Sandra Shipley knock their punch lines out of the park.  Did I mix a metaphor there?  It’s easy to mix up the men, because they’re interchangeable. (Aren’t we all?)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is lyricist Leo Robin’s only notable Broadway musical, and, more than any other element, the wit of his lyrics is what makes this a great evening.  The two hits from the score are multiple-verse comedy solos for Lorelei: Little Girl From Little Rock and Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.  Encores winks, a bit, at the convention of the encore verse, but we welcome Hilty’s every return, confident that Robin can top himself.  Lyric joke after lyric joke lands, all in a fixed structure, as I described in a recent post.  Little Rock is a series of anecdotes from the blonde life, while Diamonds is a great example of title-as-thesis getting a long series of rhetorical supports.

A kiss on the hand may be quite continental,
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.
A kiss may be grand, but it won’t pay the rental
On your humble flat
Or help you at the automat.
Men grow cold as girls grow old,
And we all lose our charm in the end.
But square cut or pear shape
These rocks don’t lose their shape!
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

I’ve heard of affairs that are strictly platonic,
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.
And I think affairs that you must keep Masonic
Are the better bets
If little pets get big baguettes.
Time rolls on, and youth is gone,
And you can’t straighten up when you bend.
But stiff back or stiff knees,
You stand straight at Tiff’ny’s!
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

There may come a time when a lass needs a lawyer,
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.
There may come a time when a hard-boiled employer
Thinks you’re awful nice,
But get that ice or else no dice.
He’s your guy when stocks are high,
But beware when they start to descend,
It’s then that those louses
Go back to their spouses!
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

Romance is divine, and I’m not one to knock it,
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.
Romance is divine, yes, but where can you hock it?
When the flame is gone,
Just try and pawn a tired Don Juan.
Some men buy, and some just sigh
That to make you their bride they intend.
But buyers or sighers
They’re such goddamn liars!
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

At Yale there’s a lad whose appeal I acknowledge,
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.
I might like his dad, but when I meet a college boy,
The thing to say
Is ‘ray, ‘ray, ‘ray for Cartier!
Some girls find some piece of mind
In a trust fund that banks recommend.
But if you are busty
Your trustee gets lusty!
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

Stash those rocks in your strongbox
For on them you can always depend.
It’s not compensation,
It’s self-preservation!
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

“Showstopper” is not a euphemism.  Early in the second act, there is a number so fabulous thunderous applause delays the furtherance of the action.  It’s a diegetic song, involving two tap-dancers we’ve never met before.  The subject of the lyric is obviously Josephine Baker, who came from humble America to become the biggest star in France.  Robin changes the name to protect the guilty pleasure: Her name was Mame, to France she came.  Now Mamie is Mimi, the toast of the Rue de la Paix.  I’m particularly tickled by “the baby who’s now a bébé.”  But what knocks the audience out is the amazing dance ability of Phillip Attmore and Jared Grimes.

As the applause is going on and on and on, you’re wondering “How in he’ll are they going to follow that?” Out sashays Megan Hilty, commanding the stage alone through five and a half wondrous verses of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.  It could be argued that this is the greatest comedy song ever written, and I got very upset with a movie called Moulin Rouge a few years ago, because it sucked all the humor out of the song, and a new generation had no idea it was funny.  Hilty’s got the comedy chops, and understands that the show celebrates Lorelei’s power.  This is not just a show about some dumb blonde a procession of men fall for, it’s about a smart girl who understands how to use her assets.  So we’re always laughing with her, sharing in the celebration, never laughing at her.  The sexiness of Hilty’s Lorelei is an outrageous joke: she moves in ways that gets the audience to double over with laughter, rather than drool with lust. And her shape: If an adolescent boy was doodling a sexy woman, she’d look like Hilty does here.  Those lips, those hips, that butt, that bust: all are in motion, wiggling in ways that support the comedy.  Now that’s what I call acting!

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