The famous story tells of Nina Yakushova Ivanoff, a stern Russian communist—luminously played by Greta Garbo in her first comedy—who comes to Paris to retrieve an errant classical composer and learns to be a woman under the tutelage of American show-biz agent Steve Canfield. He is repping the longhair, planning to turn the Russian's "Ode to a Tractor" into a splashy musical starring bubble-headed American aquatic sensation Janice Dayton (read Esther Williams) in her first nonswimming picture. Three bumbling apparatchiks sent ahead of Ninotchka provide comedy of an even lower variety.
Feuer and company never found an equivalent for the famed Lubitsch touch, and director Thomas Sabella-Mills is even less successful in getting his actors to understand the requisite style for serving this sort of fluff. Best is Kate Marrily in the lead role. She understands the deadpan humor required for Nina but is less successful transitioning into the radiant Ninotchka. She also has a tendency to lose her Russian accent while singing ballads. She's not helped by Kevin Kraft's inadequate Canfield. Kraft seems very unsure of himself, hardly an asset when playing a brash American agent and romantic operator. He fumbles dialogue, sings incorrect lyrics, and lacks any trace of sexual chemistry with his co-star. He delivers the poignant title song with all the ardor of an accountant. Oakley Boycott's rapacious movie star is a miscalculation. She seems not to understand that the joke of the character is how cheerfully brainless Janice is. As a result, Boycott boycotts nearly all her laughs. Jacob L. Smith never finds a satisfying take on the Russian composer and fades into the background. Carl Danielsen, Jody Cook, and Jason Simon work hard as the apparatchiks, but they are saddled with hoary jokes that undoubtedly landed by themselves in the middle of the Cold War but today seem hopelessly stale.
Indeed, "Silk Stockings" suffers considerably from its 1950s provenance. Any musical that has its heroine sing: "With love/What is a woman?/Serene contentment/The perfect wife/For a woman to a man is just a woman/But a man to a woman is her life" is going to have a hard time of it in 2009.
Presented by Musicals Tonight! at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway, NYC. Nov. 3–15. Tue.–Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Wed. and Fri., 2 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (212) 579-4230 or www.iseats.net. Casting by Stephen DeAngelis.