Presented by Musicals Tonight!, casting by Stephen DeAngelis, at the MainStage at the 14th Street YMHA, 344 E. 14 St., NYC, Dec. 2-21.
Although the Gershwin musical "Primrose" ran 225 performances in London, it never reached New York until now. Its London run was in the same season that saw the Gershwins' "Lady, Be Good" presented on Broadway. Musicals Tonight!, which, like City Center's Encores! and the York Theatre's Mufti series, usually presents revivals of lost treasures, offered the North American premiere, allowing for a first look. It turns out that "Primrose" is the name of an eagerly awaited novel being written by novelist Hilary Vane, who is modeling his heroine on the beautiful ward of his uncooperative next-door neighbor in the country.
"Primrose" is not the kind of sassy and bright jazz musical with which George and Ira Gershwin are usually associated, but instead a very English comedy-of-manners tale of mistaken identity written by British playwrights George Grossmith and Guy Bolton. Only one song lyric is credited to Ira alone, while 18 are credited solely to Desmond Carter, and four are collaborations between the two. Instead of the usual syncopated Gershwin tempos, much of this score resembles the work of Gilbert and Sullivan and Noël Coward. Strangely enough, the most memorable songs are by the forgotten Carter, such as "When Toby Is Out of Town," "Mary Queen of Scots," and "That New Fangled Mother of Mine." Overall, the show is charming, but extremely old-fashioned.
Director Thomas Mills did well with the comedy-of-manners style and created a polished entertainment, aided by the musical direction and vocal arrangements of Barbara Anselmi. Gavin Esham was most memorable in the comic jester role of Toby Mopham, originally created by Leslie Henson. As the novelist and his muse, Michael Shawn Lewis and Cristin Mortenson made a lovely, if humorless, couple. Brynn O'Malley was a bundle of energy as Pinkie Peach (aka the cosmetician Mme. Frazeline), particularly when performing "Naughty Baby." Ron Lee Savin's Sir Barnaby, the conservative squire, was suitably blustery.