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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Articles / Reviews

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Sparkles in Concert at the 5th

19 May 2005


by David-Edward Hughes

Whether you preferred Faith Prince's brassy, Broadway belting as Lorelei Lee, or co-headliner Lucy Lawless' jazz baby jubilance as her cohort Dorothy Shaw, or just reveled in the chance to see a rarely produced Broadway musical, The 5th Avenue Theatre and Seattle Men's Chorus had just the ticket for you this past weekend. Gentleman Prefer Blondes in concert was the two arts organizations' first co-production, and generally speaking it glittered like a diamond, even if a few aspects were more like diamonds in the rough.

Based on Anita Loos' novel, adapted by Loos and Joseph Fields, Blondes tells a tale of a seemingly innocent blonde gold-digger and her voluptuous Follies chorus girl pal, on the high seas and in Europe in the 1920s, on the prowl for loot but ending up in love. It features a bright and zippy score by composer Jule Styne and lyricist Leo Robin, including the hit song "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend." The show made its original Lorelei, Carol Channing, the toast of Broadway, and it ran for 2 years. After its 1949 debut, the property was snapped up by 20th Century Fox for a lavish 1953 Cinemascope version which, though coveted by Betty Grable, instead became a vehicle for their newest blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe and her well cast co-star Jane Russell. With several new non-Styne/Robin songs added (and several of theirs deleted), the roles of Lorelei and Dorothy were of more equal size than they are in the stage version. Channing toured a revised version of the show, now entitled Lorelei (and told in flashback by a more mature Miss Lee), across the country and to Broadway in the mid-1970s, but the National Actors Theatre's Broadway revival of the original in 1994 failed to click with audiences caught up in the British musical invasion of Broadway in that era.

The opportunity to see the original Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in a lavishly produced staged concert version was not to be missed. 5th Avenue artistic director David Armstrong directed and choreographed the large cast and chorus with aplomb and kept the pace from flagging. SMC's guiding light, Dennis Coleman, served up splendid musical direction of both the principal cast and the huge Seattle Men's Chorus, in addition to a commanding job of conducting a large and accomplished orchestra.

Given that I went into the show expecting more from Broadway vet Prince than from Lawless (best known as TV's "Xena Warrior Princess"), it surprised me to find Lawless the far more engaging performer in this particular vehicle. Prince was a solid professional throughout (and got a deservedly huge laugh when she covered a long stage wait for Lawless to re-enter by wisecracking to the SMC "Anybody know a good joke?") and delivered most of her songs with vocal gusto and solid lyric delivery. Yet the same marked lack of vulnerability that worked against her in the Broadway revival of another Styne hit, Bells Are Ringing, worked against her Lorelei really capturing our hearts. Though she earned her solid applause on "Little Girl From Little Rock," her rendition of "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" was oddly lackluster. Lawless, exuding a magnetic star quality from her first entrance and looking like a million bucks, gave her big featured vocals, "High Time" and "I Love What I'm Doing," a rousing, rowdy attractively throaty voiced delivery, and held focus even with a bevy of studly Olympic athletes gyrating all around her in the latter number.

As Lorelei's erstwhile fiancé (and button magnate) Gus Esmond, familiar 5th Avenue leading man Stephen Godwin sang well but seemed ill at ease with the "script in hand" concert format. Happily, a stalwart supporting cast made the most of the show's other comic and musical opportunities. Louis Hobson, the 5th's sober Chris in Miss Saigon made a nerdily adorable mama's boy as Dorothy's beau Henry Spofford, and lent his accomplished voice to Styne's charming waltz of courtship, "Just A Kiss Apart," and Lori Larsen was a pip of a little old drunk lady as his mother. Timothy McCuen Piggee was a hoot, and a vocal standout as Lorelei's health nut conquest Mr. Gage, Broadway and opera veteran Julian Patrick showed off his still robust voice and comic flair in the role of wealthy old Lord Beekman, deliciously so on an engagingly silly number "It's Delightful Down in Chile," while Suzy Hunt added another cannily bombastic old society dowager to her credits as his battle-ax wife. Jane Lanier was a sparkling presence as a rival of Lorelei's in the superfluous act two specialty number "Mamie is Mimi," and veteran character actor Sean G. Griffin brought a special flair to a trio of cameo roles.

A dynamic, largely Seattle-based ensemble of dancers added just enough choreographic dash to the proceedings, while the SMC's Captain Smartypants sub-group also earned favorable mention. Andy Luft's sound design supported the cast vocals and served the show's lyrics well, while Lynda Salsbury's costume designs, Alex Berry's lighting design, and Jeffrey Cook's scenic coordination made the proceedings look anything but bare bones.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes wouldn't have been my top choice for the first 5th Avenue/SMC collaboration, so it was doubly nice to discover the many charms of the show in tandem with such an exuberant presentation.