A ROARING SUCCESS Good Theater’s 10th-anniversary reprise of Little Me.
Of all the tenets in the American mythology, upward mobility is one of the biggies, both the most exalted and the most critiqued: We have both our Pretty Women and our Sisters Carrie. And somewhere in between, we also have Belle Poitrine, who was born on the wrong side of the tracks, but whose destiny, heart of gold, and curiously fatal effect on men have furthered her search for achievement. Good Theater, in its revival of Neil Simon's musical comedy Little Me, a fun and frothy send-up that the company first mounted 10 years ago, in its opening season. Now as then, all of Belle's most strategically important beaux are played by the lanky and hilarious Stephen Underwood, and Brian Allen directs a sumptuous production with a sharp live band, an stellar ensemble of thirteen, and the supple, ever-transporting voice of leading lady Kelly Caufield.
A martini-swilling older Belle (Lynne McGhee), finally dripping with diamonds, ostrich feathers, and accommodating beefcakes, recounts her story to a young writer Patrick Dennis (Andrew Sawyer) angling for a lucrative biography. As the older Belle tells it, despite living in poverty with her madam Momma (Jen Means, brassily) on Drifters Row, young Belle (Caufield) has a moment with the town's uppermost-class golden boy, Noble Eggleston (Underwood). But Mom Eggleston (Betsy Melarkey Dunphy) wants him married off to fellow blueblood Ramona (Meredith Lamothe), so Noble and the huge-hearted Belle pledge to wait for each other until she has managed to acquire that hallowed trinity of American success, Wealth, Culture, and Social Position.
Luckily, it's not just Belle Poitrine's heart that's big and beautiful — if your ninth-grade French has resurfaced, you'll have correctly guessed that her chest also inspires prodigious warmth. So on the strength of both heart and bosom, Belle makes her mostly ingenuous way from Drifters Row to vaudeville and to all the way to Hollywood (her "short-cut to Culture").
Older Belle tells her tale from the palatial South Hampton mansion where she holds court over a fawning entourage of butlers, nurses, and tennis coaches (including Glenn Anderson, Marie Dittmer, and John U. Robinson) and Good Theater's designers have hit this set out of the park: The two-level design is opulent in gold, black, and wine-colored marble, with ceiling-high columns and tooled white molding, furnished with lounge chairs upholstered in leopard and zebra. Likewise has nothing been spared with costumes, which are stylishly designed (Justin Cote) and very, very myriad — Older Belle herself changes her quintessentially decadent attire with every new interlude, Underwood's various guises have got to be seen to be believed, and no fewer than twenty other characters pass over the stage, from Drifters Row urchins to GIs and plaid-jacketed producers (Erik Moody and Todd Daley). Particularly fun get-ups appear for the vaudeville and nightclub dance numbers, when actors shake and slink in bobby-cop outfits and red satin.
Dancing, indeed, is a great focus in the show. Bob Fosse did the original 1962 choreography, and in this production, choreographer Tyler Sperry's sharp and funny numbers both celebrate and send up the genre — watch for the totally square "Rich Kids Rag," a deliberately over-the-top jazz-ballet seduction performed by Belle's old classmate-turned-nightclub-owner George (Sperry), and a priceless, softly-sung soft-shoe revue of whistling, women-starved GIs.