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A Connecticut Yankee in Concert

Reviewed by David A. Rosenberg

Presented by Encores! at City Center, 131 W. 55th St., NYC, Feb. 8-11.

Pity David Ives. For the latest "Encores!" presentation at City Center, the playwright had to make some sense of the conflicting idiocies inherent in two versions of Herbert Fields' book for "A Connecticut Yankee," the first from the 1927 original, then from the 1943 revival. The result is, at best, harmless.

Preserved are the lovely music and waggish lyrics expected from Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, one of the American theatre's most accomplished songwriting teams. "My Heart Stood Still," "Thou Swell," and "Can't You Do a Friend a Favor?" are among the standards delectably played by Rob Fisher and his terrific Coffee Club Orchestra.

The show's novelty number, "To Keep My Love Alive," contains verses that are not only among Hart's most brilliant, but which turned out to be his final ones as well. (He died five days after the revival opened.) Sung here by the giddy Christine Ebersole, the words make the mouth water.

The "Encores!" production has other assets as well. Chief among them is Rob Ashford's choreography, which matches the Rodgers and Hart insouciance and injects a contemporary note into "On a Desert Island With Thee" by joshing the film "Cast Away." The audience wisely saves its loudest cheers and biggest hand for Nancy Lemenager and Séan Martin Hingston, partnered in two dances of blazing sensuality and boundless humor. (This could be Hingston's breakout.)

Henry Gibson is an appealing King Arthur (the plot shifts between modern Hartford and medieval England), Peter Bartlett camps it up as Merlin, and Megan Sikora has a dippy bit as a lady-in-waiting. The chorus spits out the lyrics with welcome precision.

But romantic leads Judith Blazer and Steven Sutcliffe disappoint. Although Blazer's comic touch is in full swing, her voice is thin. And Sutcliffe lacks needed leading man charisma. Susan H. Schulman's direction is uneven, but, then, so is "A Connecticut Yankee."

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