I swear it's not just because Barbara McCulloh sat on my lap during her song "Come A-Wandering With Me" that I was infatuated with her performance as three different femme fatales in The High Life at the 45th Street Theatre. In Musicals Tonight!'s pleasant concert presentation of the mild operetta from 1961 (called The Gay Life then and lasting 113 performances on Broadway), McCulloh (a cross between Joan Greenwood and Martha Raye) is a delicious, high-wattage vamp, tucking the evening ever so firmly into her bodice.
Based on Arthur Schnitzler's Anatol, a picaresque tale of a rake's progress through the boudoirs of Vienna, the musical is less witty and erotic than its source. Rather, the adaptation by book writers Michael and Fay Kanin, with music and lyrics by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, is closer to, and a pale imitation of, Lerner and Loewe's 1958 film Gigi.
The plot is similar: Anatol is tamed by Liesl, a young woman whom he looks upon merely as the younger sister of his best friend, Max. But the realization of his romantic attraction here comes as an afterthought, with the climactic boy-almost-loses-girl moment occurring deep into Act II.
The score has its compensations, with the breakout "Who Can? You Can" and a pair of lilting songs for Liesl, "Magic Moment" and "Something You've Never Had Before." But the lyrics are only competent and the book is humorless.
Director-choreographer Thomas Mills uses the tiny stage to advantage -- it never seems cramped -- and James Stenborg does splendid work as music director, vocal arranger, and lone pianist.
Paul Jason Green is an ingratiating Anatol, with Jenni Barber a silver-voiced Liesl (the Barbara Cook role) and Doug Shapiro a comical Max. Others in the musically accomplished ensemble are Nicolas Dรกvila, Kyrst Hogan, Dennis Holland, Nehal Joshi, Hannah Knowlton, Meredith Pryce, Roger Rifkin, Reshma Shetty, Deborah Jean Templin, and Matthew Trombetta.
Presented by Musicals Tonight!, casting by Stephen DeAngelis, at the 45th Street Theatre, 354 W. 45th St., NYC, Oct. 18-30. Tue.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Wed., Sat., and Sun., 2:30 p.m. (212) 868-4444.