Playwright: Jerome Weidman, George Abbott, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick
At: TimeLine Theatre Company, 615 W. Wellington Ave.
Phone: ( 773 ) 281-8463; $25
Through: June 18
BY SCOTT C. MORGAN
The 1959 musical Fiorello! is distinctive. In 1960, it became the only show to tie with another ( The Sound of Music ) for a Best Musical Tony Award. It's also one of only seven musicals to ever win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama ( the others being Rent, Sunday in the Park with George, A Chorus Line, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, South Pacific and Of Thee I Sing ) .
So with all its accolades, why isn't Fiorello! done more often? Why do we know more about Fiorello LaGuardia as an international airport namesake instead of a beloved New York mayor and congressman?
My guess is that the lovable scamp of a mayor from the 1930s was still within living memory for nostalgic Broadway audiences when Fiorello! was first produced more so than he is today. Even then the authors didn't take their chances. Why else begin the show with an impatient child waiting for LaGuardia to read the funny pages over the radio during a newspaper delivery strike ( something most audiences would remember the mayor doing so the kiddies wouldn't miss out on the exploits of Little Orphan Annie ) .
Nowadays, it's mostly New York history buffs who are familiar with the half-Jewish/Italian crusader who took on the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine. As a musical that once immediately tapped the audiences' collective memory, Fiorello! now plays as a straightforward little-guy-takes-on-the-tough-guys biography.
Thankfully, TimeLine Theatre Company's marvelous Fiorello! does its part to rehabilitate the show's reputation. Director Nick Bowling's intimate production is a winner all around thanks to many factors.
Ever resourceful with its dramaturgy, TimeLine's dramaturg Brennan Parks and projection designer Mike Tutaj fill in any historical blanks about LaGuardia through marvelous video footage ( both period and mock ) that flickers on the hanging laundry around Kevin Hagan's ingeniously designed multi-level set of dense skyscraper-suggestive ladders.
Bowling has also assembled a hard-working ensemble cast that acts and sings wonderfully as they assume a multitude of roles ranging from immigrants to insider politicians ( and all without amplification at that ) . The cast's women are particularly strong, especially with Rebecca Finnegan's long-suffering secretary Marie, Bethany Thomas' powerhouse jazz belter Mizzi and Maris Hudson's cop-loving Dora.
PJ Powers is rightfully full of energy as LaGuardia, through he isn't quite the right physical type when you consider a doughy Tom Bosley from TV's Happy Days won a Tony for originating the role. Powers' take on LaGuardia's desire for his eventual wife Thea ( played by Cassie Wooley ) isn't fully believable just yet, nor is their relationship really played out to make the audience care.
But with so many other factors working in TimeLine's favor, it's easy to forgive the minor quibbles with the sometimes shaky orchestra or occasionally wayward dialect. And let's face it, the brief score of Fiorello! by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick isn't nearly as expressive or expansive as their later masterful scores for She Loves Me and Fiddler on the Roof.
Nonetheless, you should get your tickets now to TimeLine's Fiorello! because it's unlikely that you'll see it done again any time soon at such a high and consistent level of quality on such a wonderfully intimate scale. From the production values to the acting talent, TimeLine's Fiorello! is an undeniable winner.