Los Angeles Theater Preview: LOUISIANA PURCHASE (Musical Theatre West in Long Beach)

by Tony Frankel on January 19, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles

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RARELY PRODUCED BERLIN SCORE COMES TO LIFE

No doubt when folks hear “Louisiana Purchase,” they think of Thomas Jefferson’s gargantuan land acquisition from France in 1803, a purchase which resulted soon thereafter in Lewis and Clark’s expedition. So, is this the subject of the musical Louisiana Purchase? Nope.

Wait… What..? You mean you’ve never even heard of a musical by that name? What if I told you it was written by Irving Berlin? Nothing? Well, that makes sense given that most musicals produced before Oklahoma! in 1943 didn’t have full cast recordings, so it was difficult to get them embedded in the public consciousness, making revivals a tough sell. Additionally, this timely musical comedy about political corruption was turned into a Paramount picture in 1942, with all but four of Berlin’s fifteen songs cut — and no new numbers were added, so the film doesn’t feel like much of a musical. Thus, the screen version probably helped to discourage revivals of the stage version.

Here’s the kicker: The satirical libretto, written by Morrie Ryskind and B.G. (“Buddy”) DeSylva, is still timely and funny, and the show boasted one of Berlin’s best stage scores. But you only have one chance to find out for yourself when Musical Theatre West presents the original version live with orchestra on Sunday, February 11, at 7:00 at the Beverly O’Neill Theatre, as part of its Reiner Reading Series, the popular staged concert productions which sadly must come to an end after this season (one that includes Do Re Mi on June 3 and The Most Happy Fella on August 19). Cynthia Ferrer directs, with music direction by Bret Simmons.

Inspired by tales of graft in Huey Long’s administration in the South, the full-length two-act concerns the naive and unworldly Senator Oliver P. Loganberry, who is sent to New Orleans to investigate the questionable tactics of the Louisiana Purchasing Company. The company’s president, Jim Taylor, throw’s temptation in the senator’s way by sending the Viennese refugee Marina Van Linden to seduce him and then has the restaurateur Madame Yvonne Bordelaise work her wiles on the politician. Instead of a scandal, Oliver weds Yvonne and the company is spared because a picket line keeps the senator from testifying.

The show offered excellent song opportunities for Berlin, who obliged with a score chockablock with delectable numbers such as the mock lament “You’re Lonely and I’m Lonely,” the philosophical “Fools Fall in Love,” the revival-like “The Lord Done Fixed Up My Soul,” the flowing ballad “Tomorrow Is a Lovely Day,” the comic gems “What Chance Have I (With Love)?” and “Outside of That, I Love You,” the hotblooded “Latins Know How,” and the bluesy, rhythmically delectable, very very contagious title song.

Louisiana Purchase had its world premiere at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven; after other out-of-town tryouts, the show opened on Broadway May 28, 1940, where it ran for 444 performances!

And get ready for the fantastic swing-era vocal arrangements for The Martins, who appeared as a group in the original production. “The Martins,” you ask? You know the superb composer and arranger Hugh Martin, right? Composer of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”? Well, back in the 30s, he formed a vocal quartet which he called “The Martins,” one of whom was Ralph Blane, who, with Martin, arranged most of their songs. When Rodgers and Hart abandoned Best Foot Forward in 1941, Martin and Blane were hired to create the songs for the musical that made a star out of Nancy Walker (there was no cast album for this show either, but the 1963 revival with Liza Minnelli was recorded). Best Foot Forward’s success led to Martin and Blane’s Hollywood venture with a little thing called Meet Me in St. Louis.

No more digressions.

Louisiana Purchase CAST LIST:

JAMIE TORCELLINI as Senator Olive P. Loganberry
ROBERT PIERANUNZI as Jimmy Taylor
KELLEY DORNEY as Marina Van Linden
MARY GORDON MURRAY as Madame Yvonne Bordelaise
DANA MELLER as Beatrice
CARLIN CASTELLANO as Emmy Lou
MICHAEL STARR as LEE DAVIS
DOUG CARFRAE as Colonel Davis D. Davis, Sr.
CRAIG MCELDOWNEY as Davis. D. Davis, Jr.
TOM SHELTON as Dean Joseph T. Manning
and
MELISSA LYONS * ALYSSA SIMMONS
KEVIN MCMAHON * WILLIAM MARTINEZ
as The Martins

Louisiana Purchase
Musical Theatre West
part of the Reiner Staged Reading Series
produced by Michael Betts
Beverly O’Neill Theatre at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center
300 East Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach (parking is at 330 East Seaside Way)
Sunday, February 11, 2018 at 7:00
for tickets (only 27 bucks!), call 562.856.1999 ext. 4 or visit MTW

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Michael M. Landman-Karny January 26, 2018 at 4:04 pm

It is INDEED one of Berlin’s best stage scores. It was also made into a film by Paramount in 1941, starring Bob Hope with Vera Zorina, Victor Moore and Irène Bordoni reprising their stage roles.

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