54 Sings Henry, Sweet Henry

54 Sings breathes new life into a forgotten, but quality, Broadway musical

 

 

By Joel Benjamin

 

 

Henry, Sweet Henry, the 1967 Broadway musical, based on Nora Johnson’s comic novel, The World of Henry Orient wasn’t a hit, but it also wasn’t a total flop. Admired by many for its smart book and wonderful songs, it has become a minor cult oddity.

Producer/director/adaptor Steve Carl McCasland and music director James Horan assembled a game cast, headed by original cast member Neva Small as narrator, to breathe life into a mini-version of the musical. All the songs are by Bob Merrill (Carnival, Funny Girl, etc.). The witty libretto is by Nunnally Johnson, here streamlined to fit into an hour.

Mostly known through the 1964 film, The World of Henry Orient, the musical version is sharper and slightly nastier than the film. Just as in the film, the musical takes the story of two unpopular teens, Valerie Boyd (Beada Briglia, tough and big-voiced), a rich, neglected smarty and Megan Gilbert (a sweet Megan Moynahan), a naïve kid and shows how they enrich each other’s lives as they join forces to stalk the fourth-rate pianist, composer, Henry Orient (Ron Spivak, funny and wonderfully smarmy), a chase that borders on the amorous.

The musical, for better or worse, elevates a minor character, the bully Lillian Kafritz (Alexa Shae Niziak, perfect in her singing and comic timing) who steals the show with her anthem, “Nobody Steps on Kafritz.” She works hard to undermine the two leads with her evil, gloating plans, taking financial advantage of them and all her fellow students. That Miss Niziak is lovely and svelte, made her even more effective as this nasty character.

Valerie and Marian’s pursuit of Henry causes him no end of romantic frustration, interrupting tryst after tryst with nervous, giggly suburbanite, Stella (Kristen Gehling, giddily anxious) who always manages to escape Henry’s romantic clutches. The one that doesn’t bet away is Valerie’s mother, Mrs. Boyd (Corinna Sowers-Adler, singing and acting with her usual skill) which leads to a new closeness between Valerie and her too-often-absent dad, Mr. Boyd (a sympathetic Eric Knitel) who unite against the cheating wife/mother.

The songs run the gamut from a sardonic school song, “Academic Fugue,” sung by a well-rehearsed chorus of young ladies to the romantic musings of Marian and Valerie, “Henry, Sweet Henry/Woman in Love” to the bittersweet “Do You Ever Go to Boston,” the reconciliation moment between Valerie and her dad. Henry gets the oily, over-the-top “To Be Artistic” sung to seduce Mrs. Boyd.

Considering the limited rehearsal time these cabaret versions of musicals have, Henry, Sweet Henry went fairly smoothly. Some of the interpretations might have been more pointed—particularly Mr. Spivak’s who lacked Orient’s continental suaveness—but the show made a good effort to resuscitate this musical.

Mr. Horan provided strong accompaniment throughout.

 

54 Sings Henry, Sweet Henry (June 14, 2017)
Feinstein’s/54 Below
254 West 54th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
New York, NY
For reservations and information call 646-476-3551 or visit www.54Below.com

 

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