The second musical of the Candlelight Pavilion’s 2019 season, “No, No, Nanette,” is a fun, colorful, and innocent three-act escapade that cartwheels, tap dances, and spins mirthfully down memory lane, all the way back to 1925, in fact. And while the Candlelight Pavilion’s production, scheduled to run through April 13th, is directly based on the 1971 revival, it should be noted that the original 1925 musical was indirectly financed (via Frank Mandel’s 1919 play, “My Lady Friends,” which inspired “No, No, Nanette”) by the selling of Babe Ruth’s rights from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees, presumably resulting in the famous Curse of the Bambino superstition, or rather 86 years of no World Series glory for the BoSox.
For fans of musical theater, it should be a reassurance that “No, No, Nanette” has never been a verboten topic and instead has continued to persist as a legendary work and reminder of days past when problems were hashed out with a smile, a time step, and spontaneous singing. The rom-com plot touches on themes of trust, independence, love, and all the hysterical misunderstandings that accompany them.
Bible publisher and three-quarters-of-a-millionaire Jimmy Smith (not be confused with half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder in “Hello, Dolly!”) resides with his wife Sue, their ward Nanette (who wants to break out of her cloistered shell) and their comically jaded housekeeper, Pauline, in New York City. Although Jimmy is deeply in love with his wife, he is nonetheless secretly supporting three attractive women, interspersed throughout the country, with his fortune: Flora in San Francisco, Winnie in Washington, and Betty in Boston. Consequently, Jimmy elects the services of his lawyer friend Billy Early (who is married to Lucille, Sue’s best friend) to help pay and scatter off the lady friends before Sue finds out. Further complicating matters, however, is that Billy’s nephew and assistant, Tom, is in love with Nanette, who is not quite ready to get hitched just yet. Before long, Billy and Tom decide to meet with the three women at Jimmy’s Chickadee Cottage in Atlantic City, but Nanette (with Pauline) has the same destination idea for a getaway, as do Sue and Lucille. Ultimately, this happenstance, as well as Jimmy’s uproarious involvement, spurs the curious narrative toward its “I Want to Be Happy” conclusion.
Suffice it to say, the Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel-written script (adapted by Burt Shevelove) is musical theater in its purest form, evoking delight with Vincent Youmans’ music as well as Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach’s lyrics. Candlelight Pavilion staple, Director John LaLonde, has taken the classic material and made it new again for audiences that either grew up with “No, No, Nanette” or are being introduced to it for the first time. In addition, just as the pacing of the show moves briskly, so does John Vaughan’s choreography, which is the crispest and cleanest that attendees will experience for a long time. Not to mention, the musical direction by Douglas Austin has added a reinvigorating quality to the production’s renowned musical numbers, such as “Peach on the Beach,” “Tea for Two,” “Take a Little One-Step,” and, of course, the title song.
Furthermore, Chuck Ketter’s set design, along with original artwork by Hilary Knight, and the scenic painting by Colleen Bresnahan have added up to gorgeous pink-and-blue sets, symbolizing the splendor of Smith’s NYC home, as well as the beachside Chickadee Cottage garden and living room (inclusive of an eye-catching peacock-inspired backdrop). Jonathan Daroca’s lighting casts a bursting glow onto the sets and the costumes coordinated by Mark Gamez are radiantly striking – from argyle sweaters to polychromatic (albeit still modest for the timeframe) beach attire, pin-stripe suits, and shimmering dresses. Last, but certainly not least, Michon Gruber-Gonzales’ stupendous female wigs are once again indecipherable from real locks.
The performers are well-cast, playing their parts with a suitably quaint whimsy. Even Frank Minano’s Jimmy, who, despite being a financial philanderer, still comes across with a kooky likability. Minano’s high energy and great timing on his one-liners are comedically maximized, making it easy for the audience to forgive his character’s misguidedness. Sue is actualized by Tracy Ray Reynolds, who brings a commendable wisdom to a persona too strong to be a victim to her husband’s deceit. Reynolds is additionally a fabulous dancer, leading a tap-dancing spectacle at the close of “I Want to Be Happy” and is scene-stealing during “Take a Little One-Step,” where she is gracefully compelling, kicking and stepping with superb precision.
Erin Dubreuil makes for a spirited Nanette, who wants to “raise a little hell” and live an exciting life unbound from the shackles of the word “no,” which she often tends to hear. Dubreuil is excellent during her duets with Tom – portrayed by David Šášik – and has a splendid vocal range that emotes with both a sweetness and an empowered vigor. Šášik, too, nicely keeps up with his stage counterpart, and plays Tom with an appropriate and enjoyable puppy-love-struck sentimentality.
As the loyal attorney, Billy, Michael Milligan captures the essence of one who is in charge but nevertheless finds himself ensnared in a mix-up with his character’s wife, Lucille, who is depicted by Colette Peters. Besides being a very capable tenor and an impressive dancer – specifically in the balletic “Call of the Sea” – Milligan has the aura of an experienced professional. And so does Peters, who shines during the spousal duet of “You Can Dance With Any Girl” prior to sizzling on stage in a spectacular red dress during the sexily sung and choreographed “Where Has My Hubby Gone Blues.”
Rounding out the cast is the memorably funny Mary Murphy-Nelson as Pauline the maid, who brims with personality and yearns to break free from her vacuum-cleaning drudgery; Catie Marron as the hilarious Lina Lamont-reminiscent Flora; Drew Lake as the red-robed and saucy Betty; and Erin Tierney as the deceptively sweet Winnie. The ensemble performers, likewise, are absolutely crucial and perhaps the backbone of “No, No, Nanette.” They infuse a great deal of enthusiasm in the company numbers, providing a robustness of sound, while snapping their fingers, doing tap trenches, partner-dancing in perfect harmony, and even walking on large beach balls in “Peach on the Beach.”
All in all, the appeal of Candlelight Pavilion’s “No, No Nanette” is that it is not only family-friendly, but an entertaining return to a bygone history when musicals were categorically lavish, picturesque in their presentation, undeniably innocent, and full of convivial dance and music. Needless to day, not every production has to be suspenseful, serious, or overly dramatic. Sometimes the perfect prescription is to have some lighthearted fun, and “No, No, Nanette” offers just that.
For more information about “No, No, Nanette,” please visit candlelightpavilion.com