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No Strings in Concert

Presented by City Center Encores!, casting by Jay Binder, at City Center, 131 W. 55 St., NYC, May 8-12.

Oh that score! "No Strings," the 1962 Broadway hit (580 performances), was the only stage work with lyrics as well as music by Richard Rodgers. At the invaluable Encores! series at City Center, the score's dazzle was intact, even though the evening as a whole was languorous.

The jazz-infused music ranges from snappy uptunes like "Eager Beaver" to memorable ballads like "The Sweetest Sounds," all married to felicitous lyrics and sprinkled with an air of Parisian sophistication. It was Rodgers' original concept to weave musicians in and out of the action. At Encores!, that idea is spotty, but having a flautist follow the heroine and a clarinetist follow the hero at the opening set an incandescent mood.

Unfortunately, Samuel Taylor's book (adapted by David Thompson) intruded. The romance between David Jordan, an expatriate writer from Maine who's seduced by European bohemianism, and Barbara Woodruff, a Harlem-bred fashion model bent on encouraging his craft, treads a well-worn, superficial path. Yet the approach to their interracial relationship was adventuresome for that time. (It also startled audiences, especially during its Detroit tryout.)

Here, Ann Reinking's direction was unsure, her choreography tiresome, although she had great fun with the ensemble. James Naughton was a sly David, Maya Days a scrappy Barbara (in the role written for Diahann Carroll). Marc Kudisch was nicely smarmy as David's friend, while Len Cariou gave a Chevalier croak to the wistful "The Man Who Has Everything."

Making big impressions were Emily Skinner, blowsy as a rich American; Casey Biggs and Caitlin Carter as a très French photographer and his assistant; and the scene-stealing Penny Fuller as a Vogue editor. Rob Fisher conducted the terrific Ralph Burns orchestrations with his usual élan, and a word of praise for Candice Donnelly's chic costumes.

But wonderful score or not, this was a mild close to the Encores! season.

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