If the stage of the Mechanic Theatre were a fashion runway, "Ziegfeld: A Night at the Follies" would be a great show. Its fabulous costumes have baubles to make you go ooh and beads to make you go ah. There are enough feathers to denude an ostrich ranch, and more sequins than there are stars in one production number's starry backdrop.
In glitzy fact, more than a million bucks were lavished on these costumes. They are the highlight of this musical revue and, in harsher fact, just about its only reason for existence. When it comes to choreography, acting, singing and the other stuff we reasonably expect to see on a stage, "Ziegfeld" is merely a so-so spectacle.
The show pays tribute to producer Florenz Ziegfeld,
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whose pre-Depression shows were assemblages of light-hearted musical numbers and vaudeville skits. Ziegfeld figured that if a pretty girl was a melody, then a row of pretty girls was excuse enough to make whoop- ee on the Great White Way.
But "Ziegfeld: A Night at the Follies" is a more tangled proposition than merely being an invocation of the 1920s. This musical revue has more recent roots in a show simply titled "Ziegfeld" that flopped in London in 1988. Following the fashion advice that you should never throw anything away, producers surveying the wreckage bought that show's costumes by Theoni V. Aldredge in order to supplement them with yet more costumes by Nanzi Adzima and then build a whole new show around
them. They also retained some of the songs, then added more by the likes of Irving Berlin and Cole Porter.
Not only does the costuming have great eye appeal and the music automatic ear appeal, but the staging is not without its clever touches. You have to smile at seeing three mermaids posing on the half shell or "A Month of the Year" parade in which one of the chorus girls is dressed up as a Christmas tree.
This show might have worked as a pure musical revue, but the creative forces insist on giving us a story. Although the larger-than-life Ziegfeld was the focus of the London show, this production features him in only a single scene in which he is wordless and with his back to us.
Instead, there is a story that is threadbare in all ways but the sartorial. Our heroines are a farm girl
from the Midwest (Kathy Reid); a telephone operator from Brooklyn (Judy A. Walstrum), and a Philadelphia debutante (Catherine Hart). These spunky gals leave their boyfriends back home in order to make it on Broadway, which they do in about five minutes. Admittedly, this "story" is meant to be no more than a fluffy connecting thread between musical numbers, but it's just too tired to be any fun.
The "special material" was written by Ralph Allen, who earlier perpetrated the vaudeville shtick in "Sugar Babies." The dreadful comic skits hit bottom with poorly conceived and acted impersonations of Mae West and W. C. Fields.
"Ziegfeld: A Night at the Follies" plays at the Mechanic Theatre through April 28. For ticket information, call 625-1400.