By: Paulanne Simmons
December 5, 2023: I Can Get It for You Wholesale, with music and lyrics by Harold Rome and book by Jerome Weidman, based on his 1937 novel of the same name, is set in New York City’s garment district during the Great Depression. It focusses on the financial rise and moral fall of Harry Bogen, an unscrupulous businessman who lies to his mother; his girlfriend, Ruthie; and his business partners, Teddy and Meyer. And that’s the least of it. He also leaves Ruthie for the dancer, Martha Mills, and makes Meyer take the rap when he finally gets caught as an embezzler.
The show premiered on Broadway in 1962, in a decade when theatergoers wanted to see business man concocting their ruthless tactics onstage rather than in the White House. Witness What Makes Sammy Run, which opened in February 1964 and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which opened in October 1961.
I Can Get It for You Wholesale had a run of 300 performances at the Shubert Theatre, lost money and received mixed reviews. Howard Taubman of The New York Times appreciated its portrayal of the garment district and Jewish life. Time Magazine called the score “drab” and maintained the show was “as quiet as Seventh Avenue on Yom Kippur.”
Yet the show is one of the most important musicals in American theater history because it marked the debut of Barbara Streisand (she had not yet dropped the middle “a”), and for that alone we must be eternally grateful to its producer, David Merrick.
Classic Stage Company’s revival of the show does not have Barbra Streisand as Bogen’s secretary, Miss Marmelstein. But it does have the show-stopping Julia Lester. It also has the excellent Santino Fontana as Harry and the magnificent Judy Kuhn as his mother.
In an effort to improve on the original show, director Trip Cullman brought in Weidman’s son, John (who collaborated with Stephen Sondheim on two of his biggest flops, Pacific Overtures and Assassins), John turned Harry into a more evil and less charming conniver. This might make the show more consistent and appropriately dark, considering the material. But it also leaves us wondering how Harry inspires the loyalty of his partners and the devotion of his girlfriend. This is a man even a mother has trouble loving.
Classic Stage Company’s small stage, which has no wings or backstage, makes entrances and exits awkward and doesn’t give set designer Mark Wendland much room. But Ann Hould -Ward sets the time and place with her precise and evocative costumes. And Rome’s Klezmer inflected score can hold its own next to Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s Fiddler on the Roof.
If you leave your moral compass home, I Can Get it For You Wholesale is lots of fun.
I Can Get It for You Wholesale ****
Classic Stage Company
136 East 13 Street
Runs through December 17, 2023
Photography : Julieta Cervantes