The understudy-to-star route is one that’s rarely traversed overnight, especially in musicals. There, the standby is often a chorus gal or guy with almost, but not everything, the role requires. That's the case with Matthew Risch, the talented young hoofer who took over the title role from Jersey Boys Tony winner Christian Hoff in previews. He's an assured, nimble dancer, a moderately strong singer and an appealing, if tentative, actor.
But since Risch barely had time to learn the part of schemer and dreamer Joey Evans, who seduces his way into wealth in 1930s Chicago, before circumstances thrust him center stage, it's hard not to be — borrowing from the show's signature song — bewitched watching an enthusiastic fresh face find his way in the role. It's a sentiment that applies to much of this dark 1940 Rodgers and Hart musical, which has a smart new book by Richard Greenberg. There are lots of impressive gems, even if they don't add up to crown jewels.
There's the supporting cast, for one. Stockard Channing may not have the most mellifluous vocal chops, but as sugar mama Vera Simpson, she makes "Bewitched, Bothered, Bewildered" a beautiful, heartbreaking song of yearning, losing and loving. Tony winner Martha Plimpton, an A-list dramatic actress, emerges as the biggest surprise as been-there-and-back chorus gal Gladys Bumps. Her mischievous rendition of the jaunty strip number "Zip" rivals Elaine Stritch's interpretation in her one-woman show a few seasons back. On the new-discovery front, Jenny Fellner as sweet-but-not-squishy ingénue Linda English sings beautifully as her character fights against the bleakness that surrounds her without coming across as too angelic.
Hart's playful, often biting lyrics vie with a Rodgers score that leans toward the ballady and repetitive. (His best work, with Oscar Hammerstein, was still ahead of him.) But in an age of kid-oriented Broadway musicals, a tuneful and intelligent show with strong characters is a delicacy to be savored.
By Diane Snyder
Visit the Site
Stockard Channing, Matthew Risch, Martha Plimpton, Robert Clohessy, Jenny Fellner, Daniel Marcus, Steven Skybell, Timothy J. Alex, Brian Barry, Bahiyah Sayyed Gaines, Lisa Gajda, Anthony Holds, Nadine Isenegger, Mark Morettini, Kathryn Mowat Murphy, Abbey O’Brien, Hayley Podschun, Krista Saab, Eric Sciotto
254 West 54th Street
New York, NY 10019