Endlessly ingenious musical staging by Susan Stroman, a hilarious, smart-alecky script by Ken (Lend Me a Tenor) Ludwig, evocative 30s-style sets by Robin Wagner, and above all a collection of great George and Ira Gershwin songs make for perfect escapist entertainment in this 1992 Broadway hit. And though this touring cast isn't quite as top-notch as the road company that played the same theater in 1993, the show's inherent strengths more than compensate for any weaknesses. Loosely inspired by the 1930 musical Girl Crazy, Ludwig's script concerns a Manhattan playboy who tries to revive a mined-out mining town by staging a Ziegfeldian "Follies" in its theater-turned-post office. The plot's just an excuse for director Mike Ockrent's clever reworkings of classic gags from the era of the Marx Brothers and Fred Astaire--and for choreographer Stroman's sassy, inventive visualizations of such Gershwin gems as "Embraceable You," "Nice Work If You Can Get It," "I Can't Be Bothered Now," and an "I Got Rhythm" as freshly exuberant as it was when Ethel Merman introduced it in Girl Crazy. As the Ziegfeld wannabe, Kirby Ward isn't the star-quality clown that James Brennan was in the show's first Chicago run, but he's a charming song-and-dance man who obviously loves what he's doing; his wife and leading lady Beverly Ward is an endearing tomboy with a big country-western belt that nicely serves ballads like "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "But Not For Me"; and Brady Bunch veteran Ann B. Davis, who was brand-new to the show in its previous visit here, has by now taken full, funny possession of her cameo role as the hero's snobbish banker mother. Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, 902-1500. Through August 6: Tuesdays, 7:30 PM; Wednesdays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $12.50-$55.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joan Marcus--Carol Rosegg.