By: Paulanne Simmons
The central figure in Neil Simon (book), Cy Coleman (music) and Carolyn Leigh’s (lyrics) 1962 musical, Little Me, is Belle
Poitrine, a wealthy widow and celebrity who has climbed to the top on the backs of her dead husbands and lovers. If Belle is short on morals and high on self-promotion, who can blame her? She grew up in a world where the entitled rich jealously protected their domain and the poor knew their place. Celebrity autobiography. Income inequality. Sound familiar?
As the French say, the more things change the more they stay the same. Whether or not this was what Encores! producers had in mind when they put John Rando at the helm of Little Me in this season’s opening production, the musical certainly has a timely humor we can appreciate in these days of unemployment, Wall Street extravagance and superstar shenanigans.
Although Belle is Little Me‘s heroine, the show is really a vehicle for the actor who plays all of Belle’s husbands and lovers. In the original production, this was Sid Caesar. In the Encores! revival it is Christian Borle. Without seeing the original, one can only imagine what a comedian like Caesar did with those multiple roles in 1962. But those who were in attendance at City Center on opening night in 2014 know exactly what Borle did – steal the show. And that was no minor feat.
With Judy Kaye as Older Belle, Rachel York as Young Belle, Tony Yazbeck as George, Belle’s admirer from childhood, and Harriet Harris as Mrs. Eggelston, the mother of Belle’s first true love, Borle had plenty of competition for the audience’s attention. Add to that a large and excellent supporting cast backing up the principles in a classic Broadway score, with a great variety of songs accompanied by many wonderful dances, originally choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse (in this production Joshua Bergasse does the choreography).
Kaye is obviously in her element as the self-dramatizing Belle. She is wickedly endearing as she struts across the stage carrying an emblematic golf club, rifle or tennis racket. York, sporting innocent blonde curls, is the exact image of Belle’s imaginary self. Her clear pure voice is a telling contrast to Kaye’s more mature renditions.
Yazbeck provides a very masculine foil to all of Borle’s portrayals of Belle’s lovers, from the rich boy Noble Eggelston; to the doddering banker, Amos Pinchley; to the naughty cabaret star Val du Val; to the egocentric director Otto Schnitzler; to the dying Prince Cherney. If Yazbeck is a foil to Borle, Harris is the same for Kaye. She is every bit as impervious as Kaye, only in a less earthy if equally ridiculous way.
Although technically Encores! productions are concert readings, the shows are replete with complete orchestrations, dazzling costumes, fully executed dance numbers and scenery that’s pushed onstage or descends from the fly space.
Little Me ran for only seven months when it premiered on Broadway. It didn’t do any better in subsequent reviv
als. Perhaps this is a show that’s time has finally come. Broadway bound?
Little Me, at the City Center, 131 West 55th Street, Manhattan; 212-581-1212, nycitycenter.org. Through Feb. 9. Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes.