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Pardon My English in Concert

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Presented by City Center Encores!, casting by Jay Binder, at City Center, 131 W. 55 St., NYC, March 25-28.

Turning a sow's ear flop into a silk purse success, the City Center Encores! concert presentation of "Pardon My English" was a surprising delight. In 1933, the show, despite a stellar roster of a creative team, including George Gershwin (music), Ira Gershwin (lyrics), and Herbert Fields and Morrie Ryskind (book), lasted only five weeks. Actors, directors, and writers came and went (Ryskind had his name removed from the credits), and one of the producers had a nervous breakdown.

For Encores!, David Ives pared down the script, gave it clarity, and treated everything as a lark. With such Gershwin songs as "The Lorelei," "My Cousin in Milwaukee," and "Isn't It a Pity?," Ives fashioned an evening of rare, if downright silly pleasure. You have to love a work with a character named Magda who boasts that if she marries Dickie Carter she'll be known as "Magda Carter."

The idiotic tale of mistaken identity splits our hero into two personalities, both engendered by blows to the head. One minute he's Golo, a tough nightclub owner, the next he's Michael, a cultured Englishman. The convoluted plot then gives him two girlfriends, one for each personality.

Set in pre-World War II Dresden, the evening poked the ribs of Nazis (a beer toast turns into a "Sieg Heil") as well as psychoanalysts (as in the song "Freud and Jung and Adler"). As slyly and stylishly directed by Gary Griffin, the cast was rakish.

Brian d'Arcy James had a ball as the schizoid hero. Emily Skinner threw all caution to the winds as his blowsy girlfriend, while Jennifer Laura Thompson gave dimension to his more sedate date, and Rob Bartlett scored as a bumbling police commissioner.

Felicia Finley and Don Stephenson stopped the show with "Luckiest Man in the World," as choreographed by Rob Ashford, and Tom Alan Robbins, Kevin Carolan, and Lee Zarrett lent stalwart support. Rob Fisher was the spirited conductor.

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