The show: "Fingers & Toes'' at Ivoryton Playhouse
What makes it special?: New musical by Logan Medland and directed by Robert Moss, founder of off-Broadway's Playwrights Horizons.
First impressions: There's some fine talent on stage in Ivoryton: dazzling dancing, great singing and some skillful tinkling of the ivories (appropriate enough for the town). But the book in this '30s-set, showbiz tale needs comedy instead of corn, a dramaturgical overhaul and, at 2 and half hours, some major cutting despite its snappy staging. (There's a reason those backstage musical films of the period came in at a brisk 90 minutes or less.)
There are many moments of old-time entertainment pleasure but they get buried in the belabored comings-and-goings on stage, characters cut out of old reels and the thinnest of stories
What's it about?: A pianist-composer Tristan "Fingers" St. Claire (Aaron Berk) is house-squatting in the deserted rooftop theater of the New Amsterdam Theater, in 1939, in despair at the end of his marriage. Hoofer pal Dustin "Toes" McGrath (Rick Faugno) arrives and tries to lift his spirits by telling him that he can get a big-time producer to come see their new show — one that they haven't written yet.
But they need a "girl" for the show and they find the perfect one in Molly Molloy (Joyce Chittick). The three decide it's going to be a show about love, and as the show emerges it reflects the changing temperament of the romantic Fingers, the love-'em-and-leave-'em Toes and the hurt-too-often Molly.
Sounds like a decent, albeit formulaic, set-up: Problem is, Fingers' depression is so deep — suicidal, in fact — that his despair drags down the spirit of the first act. (He has two songs in the show that are practically dirges.) Which means a lot of the uplift is left to Toes, and, later with a shot of smart-dame sass, to Molly.
Luckily Faugno's singing and dancing is spectacular and he's also just swell with the wise-guy, fast-talking and slangy patter. So is Molly, and Chittick has the comic chops and the killer voice that is made-to-order for this period archetype. Trouble is, the dialogue's a dud, filled with groaners and a few questionable taste-level gags.
How's the music?: Logan Medland has written the book, music and lyrics for the show, which has had several earlier productions and presentations. The pastiche songs are tuneful and there are several (the opener "All I Want to do," "Just Don't Fall in Love," "Let's Just Dance") that are especially fine. But his rhyming-dictionary lyrics become wearisome after a while and at 23 numbers, even well-crafted nostalgia wears out its welcome. There's also more than a few clinkers, like those dirges and especially a show-stopping — and not in a good way — and spectacularly unfunny "You Might As Well Laugh."
The show's production values are solid. Daniel Nischan's set pays attention to detail, Marcus Abbott's lighting is atmospheric and Kari Crowther's costumes, too, give authenticity to the period and characters.
And special recognition goes to David Wanstreet's choreography that shows off Faugno and Chittick's talents spectacularly, especially for Faugno who dances with show-biz savviness, drive and grace. His solo, music-free tap number is emotionally raw and choreographically fierce.
Who will like it?: Dance fans, especially of tap.
Who won't?: Those looking for something more substantial.
For the kids: Young ones won't sit still for the duration and older ones may find the corn hard to take, though they may be amused at the fart jokes.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: The dancing digits are the best part of this clunky period tale of showbiz romance.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: Applause of the Ivoryton Playhouse for introducing new work, which is always a challenge. Despite its previous developments, this show still needs lots more work — and cutting. You know it's far from right when in watching this show you keep imagining the talent on stage in other, more solid, vehicles, especially for Faugno. (A revival of "Pal Joey?" )
The basics: The show runs through June 22. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission. The theater is located at 103 Main St. in the Ivoryton section of Essex. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are 442; $37 seniors; $20 students; $15 for children. Information: 860-767-7318 and www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.
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