By: Paulanne Simmons
March 1, 2020: For many people, the most significant fact about the 1962 musical, No Strings, is that it has the only Broadway score for which Richard Rodgers wrote both the music and the lyrics. In fact, the book was written by Samuel A. Taylor (more famous for screenplays for films such as Vertigo and The Eddy Duchin Story), and was arguably the first Broadway musical to address the Civil Rights movement that was about to coalesce in the 1963 March on Washington.
The show was not particularly successful. Perhaps Broadway audiences were not yet ready to confront racism. Or perhaps Taylor and Rodgers referenced the subject so obliquely many people just didn’t get what they were doing. (Other than casting the black actress, Diahann Carroll, as the love interest of a white man, played by Richard Kiley, there is no direct allusion to race.) Or, maybe it was simply that Rodgers needed a Larry Hart or Oscar Hammerstein as lyricists. At any rate, No Strings ran for a brief 580 performances, securing for Carroll the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, a first for an African-American.
No Strings has a shaky plotline: Barbara Woodruff, a black model living in Paris falls in love with David Jordan, a Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist who’s assuaging a severe case of writer’s funk with a lot of Parisian fun. She tries to get him back on track, only to discover they really have no future together. The music, while not Rodgers’ best, is certainly pleasant. And the lyrics are serviceable, although Rodgers is not Hammerstein or Hart.
This is a musical that can only work with excellent direction and a really good cast. It’s probably not for a newly formed company such as J2 Musical Theater Company.
Deidre Goodwin directs and choreographs. She is an actress who does not seem to have any directing credits. If she had, she would certainly have realized the stage at Theatre Row’s Kirk Theatre is much too small for No Strings. She has far too many people moving around on that stage. Sometimes we pray actors won’t fall over each other while just walking, let alone dancing.
Keyonna Knight as Barbara Woodruff and Cameron Bond as David Jordon have good voices, but they lack the passion necessary for a love story. Tim Ewing as the rich Frenchman who’s keeping Barbara until David comes along, seems about as French as American cheese. The ensemble works hard, but they have no room to kick up their heels.
No Strings is not a terrible show. But it belongs in a regional theater in the outer boroughs or a church basement. We can applaud J2 Spotlight Musical Theater Company for its ambition. But the company just doesn’t yet have the resources for the big time.
No Strings ***
410 West 42 Street, NYX 10036
Between 8th and 10th Avenues
Through March 8, 2019
Photography: Clay Anderson