Tuneful ``fiorello!'' Notes Laguardia's Life

March 24, 1995|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Special to The Sun

You don't ordinarily refer to someone as "larger than life" when he was only 5-foot-2, but then there was nothing ordinary about Fiorello LaGuardia, the diminutive mayor who did so much to help New York City bounce back from the ravages of the Great Depression.

Whether fighting organized crime, expunging the corrupt legacy Tammany Hall, overseeing construction of the airport that bears his name, or endearing himself to children by reading the funny papers over the radio, Fiorello -- the "Little Flower" -- was one of those colorful figures who seem to sum up an entire era all by themselves.

"Fiorello!," the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1959 musical about LaGuardia's rise to prominence from his days as an idealistic neighborhood lawyer, through his election to Congress and subsequent quest for leadership of the city, is in production at the Colonial Players of Annapolis.

Composed by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, the duo that would go on to create "Fiddler on the Roof," "Fiorello!" is a feisty, tuneful affair eminently worth doing well, which is definitely the case over at the little theater just off State Circle.

Colonial Players has put together a colorful, fast-paced "Fiorello!" that should delight audiences for the duration of its run. If you enjoy spunky performances, this is the show for you.

Thomas Graham struts like a cocky bantam rooster from start to finish in the title role.

He is short, charismatic and gravelly voiced -- not unlike LaGuardia himself.

Mr. Graham might even be a little too intense at times; even over breakfast with his wife, he's still pushing, posing and selling with an energy that never flags. Whew.

His singing voice is good and, best of all, Mr. Graham fizzes up some genuine on-stage chemistry with both of the women in Fiorello's life: his wife, Thea, played nicely by Renee Tilton, and Marie, his Girl Friday portrayed with real flair by Katie McAllister.

Alas, neither of the women has the upper range to make it through their songs unscathed, but the characterizations come though loud and clear, especially Ms. McAllister's Marie, whose vulnerability is touching precisely because she's such a good-natured, tough cookie.

There are a host of funny, colorful characters and bits that add immeasurably to the proceedings. You'll giggle uncontrollably when Jane Elkins as Dora, a garment worker whose union has been helped by the mayor-to-be, lets fly with the hilarious "I Love a Cop."

Also a riot is the quartet of pols -- Richard Bruinsma, Brian Michener, Matt Lampell and Ed Wintermute -- who play "Politics and Poker" with equal passion, and provide adorable back-up as their ward boss (Bob Brewer) songfully salutes bribery and graft in "Little Tin Box." They are very, very funny.

The ensemble is energetic to a fault, and director Al Cauffman has done an extraordinary job of packing maximum pizazz into minimal space.

Not all the soloists are up to snuff but, on the whole, this "Fiorello!" is as fresh and well meant as its distinguished original.

The Colonial Players production of "Fiorello!" will play until April 8. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Sunday matinees are at 2:30 p.m. Information: 268-7373.

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