Theater Review: NO, NO, NANETTE (Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont)

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by Tony Frankel on March 15, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


When the 1925 musical No, No, Nanette was revised and remounted in 1971, it was predicted to be a flop by folks in the Biz, but it was the buzz of the season with nostalgia-seeking audiences who were sick of assassinations and war; they were ready for a delightful, carefree evening. They also wanted to see the tap-dancing movie star from the ’30s, Ruby Keeler, watch the work of erstwhile movie director and choreographer Busby Berkeley, and hear the score — a real beaut — with standards “Tea for Two” and “I Want to Be Happy” among the happy tunes. This is why patrons were willing to spend the then-unheard of sum of $12 on weeknights and $15 on weekends. What they didn’t know was the drama behind the curtain: One day you should read Don Dunn’s 1973 tell-all, The Making of No, No, Nanette, to learn that 35 people were sacked during tryouts, and the 75-year-old Berkeley — whose name stayed on the poster as production supervisor — kept falling asleep, so he was replaced by Forum‘s Burt Shevelove, who re-wrote the book and directed.

As we learned at Candlelight Pavilion’s revival of this revisal is that Shevelove created a whipped-cream and cherry concoction that’s less robust than expected (he wrote A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and more vacantly pleasant. And since many of the lines aren’t the zingers they think they are, we need a cast which excels at burlesque. Either because of a lack of casting choices for director John LaLonde, or because the art of burlesque is dying out, the results are comme ci comme ça.

The maid Pauline is the comic relief in a musical comedy, but instead of a brash, wisecracking sidekick, we get in Mary Murphy-Nelson an unamusing maid who lacks the timing to make the part soar. Still, even without the big yucks, Candlelight serves up this puffy, tasty treat with enough talent to make your visit a blast from the past.

The indefatigable, show-stopping, tap-dancing Tracy Ray Reynolds plays the Keeler role of Sue, the well-to-do wife of Bible-publisher Jimmy (Frank Minano, perfectly cast but also dropping the ball in the comedy department), who is suspected of philandering with three women — yet he isn’t. There are, however, three protégées from around the country who have been financially protected by Jimmy and they’re coming for more (strangely enough the lithe and gorgeous gals — Catie Marron, Drew Lake and Erin Tierney — sound like high-pitched chorines from the Bronx). Sue’s shop-happy friend Lucille (Colette Peters) drops the news to Sue, but soon suspects her own husband Billy (Michael Milligan), Jimmy’s lawyer, of fooling around — although he isn’t as well.

And how would a potential break-up of Jimmy and Sue’s marriage affect their ward and liberated flapper Nanette (Erin Dubreuil)? Frankly, even though she’s interested in her new beau Tom (David Šášik), she wants to flap her flippers in Atlantic City first, having been sheltered in that darn ritzy Manhattan townhouse. Although there are plenty of misunderstandings and spats before Act III comes to an end (Acts I & II have a small break instead of an intermission here), one and all will resolve their problems. As slight as that sounds, it’s enough plot for a show with music by Vincent Youmans (rhymes with “humans”) and lyrics by Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach, John Vaughan’s era-appropriate dances, an infectiously joyful ensemble, and your included meal – truly some of the best food in town.

Highlights include anything Ms. Tracy Ray Reynolds does (“Where Has My Hubby Gone Blues”); Ms. Peters’ perfect demeanor and voice in “Too Many Rings Around Rosie” (where did the chorus get those trellises — there’s some murky motivation here, unless they destroyed them in the very tiny garden for a song); Mr. Milligan’s joie de vivre and high-kicking in “Call of the Sea”; the jack-hammering “I Want to Be Happy” tap number; and Ms. Dubreuil’s triple-threat treats in “No, No, Nanette.” And that dementedly earnest, wide-eyed, happy chorus makes you wish the world was about ninety years younger.

photos courtesy of Candlelight Pavilion

No, No, Nanette
Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater
455 West Foothill Blvd in Claremont
doors open on Fri and Sat at 6; Sun at 5; Sat and Sun at 11; Thurs at 6 (April 11)
(meals served before the show, which begins 1:45 after doors open)
ends on April 13, 2019
for tickets ($30-$74 includes meal), call 909.626.1254 x 1 or visit Candlelight

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