Forget June. Silly, feel-good fun is bustin’ out all over Wright State University’s outstanding presentation of the rarely staged 1971 revision of the 1925 musical comedy “No, No, Nanette” in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center.
Amusingly adapted by Burt Shevelove (“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”), “No, No, Nanette” is an old-fashioned confection about blossoming romance and kooky shenanigans predominately set in Atlantic City circa 1925. Spunky Nanette loves her chipper boyfriend Tom Trainor, but matters grow complicated through various entanglements and goofy misunderstandings particularly surrounding Jimmy Smith, her guardian, and Billy Early, Jimmy’s lawyer. The unabashedly hokey book by Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel communicates the madcap antics with varying success as some jokes hit their target while others land with an awkward thud. Still, the story rests comfortably within Harbach, Irving Caesar and Vincent Youmans’ dandy score. “Too Many Rings Around Rosie,” “Tea for Two,” “I Want to Be Happy,” and “Take a Little One-Step” are among the many musical numbers fantastically choreographed by guest artist Michael Baxter who recently completed his fifth season as resident choreographer of the MUNY in St. Louis. Baxter’s consistently fabulous tap routines and the importance of capturing the essential, cutesy flavor of the Roaring Twenties is expertly overseen by director Joe Deer who keeps the show’s purely escapist pedigree at a deliriously sunny high.
The bright and bubbly Lauren Everett sparkles in the plucky titular role. In addition to her radiant vocals, Everett conveys keen period-flavored nuances and brings heartfelt earnestness to Nanette’s desire to break free from her sheltered existence. Kyle Krichbaum, as lovable scoundrel Jimmy, aptly handles his chief task of providing befuddled comic relief as Jimmy copes with the shock of being confronted by his former flings (Betty from Boston, Winnie from Washington, and Flora from San Francisco enjoyably and respectively played with dim-witted vivacity by Caroline Chisholm, Danielle Bessler, and physical comedienne Megan Valle). As Billy, dynamically debonair leading man Dakota Mullins (a knockout last season as Tommy Djilas in “The Music Man”) impressively demonstrates his finesse as a marvelously mature, Jerome Robbins-esque dancer in “The Call of the Sea,” a remarkable showcase allowing him to display his terrific lines, masculine elegance, and great agility (notice his cartwheel off a piano!). Grace Liesch is fittingly tightly-wound as Jimmy’s wife Sue, but wonderfully loosens up at the show’s climax (in the vein of Sandy Dumbrowski) to lead a rousing rendition of “Take a Little One-Step.” Amiable tenor Brandon Kinley warmly complements Everett in tone as the straight-laced Tom. The humorous Bailey Edmonds is believably agitated as Jimmy and Sue’s long-suffering maid Pauline. Meredith Zahn, as Billy’s wife Lucille, serves feisty sophistication, particularly shining alongside Mullins in the superb duet “You Can Dance with Any Girl” and bringing compelling yearning to torch song “Where Has My Hubby Gone Blues.” The very talented ensemble offers sharp characterizations and heightens the innate effervescence of many spirited numbers including a charming ukulele finale.
Scenic designer Pam Lavarnway supplies a striking art deco creation for Jimmy and Sue’s swanky NYC home and takes an enchantingly quaint approach for their Atlantic City cottage resting beside a lovely cloudburst backdrop. Costumer Elizabeth Bourgeois, in her WSU debut, provides attractively colorful attire perfectly suited to the era. Jessica Ann Drayton’s lighting design, music director Scot Woolley’s splendid 16-piece orchestra, and the exemplary onstage piano accompaniment of dapper duo John Slate and David Hapner (bolstering the score’s bouncy joys on opposite sides of the proscenium) are added delights.
Reminiscent of tap-driven musicals “42nd Street,” “Dames at Sea,” “Crazy for You,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and current hit “Holiday Inn” to name a few, “No, No, Nanette” stands as a vibrantly entertaining homage to bygone Broadway.
“No, No, Nanette” continues through Nov. 13 at the Creative Arts Center Festival Playhouse of Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Fairborn. Performances are Nov. 2, 3, and 10 at 7 pm, Nov. 4, 5, 11, and 12 at 8 pm, and Nov. 5, 6, 12, and 13 at 2 pm. The production is performed in 2 hours and 40 minutes including one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $22 for adults and $20 students and seniors. For tickets or more information, call (937) 775-2500 or visit https://liberal-arts.wright.edu/theatre-dance-and-motion-pictures.“No, No, Nanette” stands as a vibrantly entertaining homage to bygone Broadway.
In related news, Tony, Emmy and Academy Award-winning scenic and costume designer Tony Walton will discuss his career on Broadway and in Hollywood at Wright State on Wednesday, Nov. 2. Walton will give a public talk from 10 a.m. to noon in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center. Admission is free and open to the public. He will also give a workshop to design and technology students in the Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures from 1:30 to 3:30 pm. Space is available for limited number of observers to attend the 1:30 p.m. workshop. To attend, contact Amanda Brewer, administrative assistant to the Musical Theatre Initiative, at email@example.com or 775-4204.
Walton’s visit to Wright State in sponsored by the Musical Theatre Initiative (MTI) at Wright State University, an international center dedicated to celebrating and exploring the history, culture and craft of the musical theatre through concerts, conferences, teaching workshops and special events. The Musical Theatre Initiative’s focus this year is on “Legacies,” celebrating the work and careers of the creators of many of musical theatre’s greatest works. In addition to Walton, MTI will welcome Broadway documentarian Rick McKay, who produced and directed “Broadway: The Golden Age”; a master teacher from the Verdon Fosse Legacy project who will recreate one of Bob Fosse’s legendary dances from “Sweet Charity”; and famed lyricist Sheldon Harnick, best known for “Fiddler on the Roof” and “She Loves Me.” Dates and information for these guests will be announced soon.
Past guests of the Musical Theatre Initiative have included Tony and Emmy Award-winner Leslie Uggams, Tony-winning composer Jason Robert Brown, “Rent” star Adam Pascal and more than a dozen renowned teachers.