If you find yourself in Gotham City this weekend, don’t miss Cole Porter’s “The New Yorkers” at the gorgeously renovated City Center theater on West 55th Street. This is the first time that this lost (and now restored) madcap musical has been staged since it premiered in 1930.
I had the enormous pleasuring of seeing it Thursday evening. The highly talented cast of 31 players acts, sings, and dances through an effervescent tale about incredibly randy Manhattan socialites and mobsters who enjoy the latter days of Prohibition with bathtub-gin martinis and beds equipped with extra springs. This is the kind of show that concludes Act I with a stirring, splinter-filled salute to wood. Really.
The New Yorkers: A Sociological Musical Satire is hilarious, extremely clever, and filled with spectacular wordplay and some of the most sparkling lyrics in recent memory. Among much more, “Hackensack” and “medulla oblongata” are used to laugh-out-loud effect.
Broadway veteran Arnie Burton portrays Feet McGee, a caviar-monger who has a bad habit of repeatedly getting shot to death. He stuns the crowd in Act II with “Let’s Not Talk about Love,” a rapid-fire patter song whose tongue-twisting words McGee delivers as if with a Gatling gun:
Let’s talk about drugs, let’s talk about dope
Let’s try to picture Paramount minus Bob Hope
Let’s start a new dance, let’s try a new step
Or investigate the source of Mrs. Roosevelt’s pep
Why not discuss, my dee-arie
The life of Wallace Bee-ery
Or bring a jeroboam on
And write a drunken poem on
I owe you an apology
But let’s not talk about love.
Burton’s presentation of these Cole Porter lyrics is a marvel of oral dexterity.
With the support of the Joseph S. and Diane H. Steinberg Broadway Restoration Fund and Denise R. Sobel, the producers stitched this show together from faded, long-forgotten carbon copies of the script. The vocal arrangements and orchestrations were lost to time and had to be reconstructed. Several songs written and performed by comedian Jimmy Durante in 1930 had vanished. Thankfully, copies were discovered resting quietly at UCLA’s Durante archive. Other missing songs have been replaced with similar tunes from that era. They function as reliably as spare parts in a well-oiled engine. Keep the hood closed, and everything zooms along in a state of zany normality.
The New Yorkers is jaw-droppingly risqué. It is unimaginable today that the original production got away with so much, during the Herbert Hoover administration. Fleeting assignations, flexible relationships, adultery, and prostitution are all on vivid display. The standard “Love for Sale,” about a forlorn hooker, first walked the streets in this work.
At one point, bootlegger Al Spanish (Tam Mutu) tells affluent heiress Alice Wentworth (Scarlett Strallen), “I still can’t figure out why a swell society girl should fall for a guy like me.” She replies: “You can never tell the depth of the well from the length of the pump handle.”
Under the baton of conductor Rob Berman, the 30-piece Encores! orchestra is right on stage throughout all the action. It beautifully performs Porter’s sophisticated melodies and lush, new arrangements by Josh Clayton and Larry Moore. These musicians are full of surprises, as just the right sound from a bell, triangle, or trombone, at just the right time, elicits fresh titters.
This is a splashy entertainment for fans of musical comedy and the Great American Songbook and anyone who happens to like New York.
But hurry! Cole Porter’s long-dormant, freshly polished gem is available for a severely limited run, as are City Center’s other revivals of vintage productions. Alas, the mirth ends on Sunday.
— Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor with National Review Online.