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The New Moon in Concert

Presented by City Center Encores!, casting by Jay Binder/Laura Stanczyk, at City Center, 131 W. 55 St., NYC, March 27-30.

The lights turned midnight blue, a star cyclorama twinkled, a handsome man faced a beautiful woman, and the melody of "Wanting You" floated through the cavernous City Center. Suddenly, this harsh world went away as the lovers poured out their longing in the irresistible Encores! concert production of "The New Moon."

The Sigmund Romberg-Oscar Hammerstein II-Frank Mandel-Laurence Schwab 1928 operetta, the last great hit in that genre, was given a glorious mounting in an affectionate adaptation by David Ives. Credit director Gary Griffin with holding onto the reins, balancing camp and sincerity by never letting the melodramatic piece, with its sometimes laugh-inducing book and lyrics, go over the top.

It's the kind of show where entrances are prepared for in the manner of "look who's here," end-rhyme lyrics predominate, and romance-and-heroism corn is higher than an elephant's eye.

But did it matter? Not when the sensational Rodney Gilfry and Christiane Noll burst their lungs to proclaim their on-again, off-again love. Or Burke Moses handled "An Interrupted Love Song" so slyly. Or Lauren Ward and Peter Benson were such adorable ingénues. Or Alex Sanchez and Mary Ann Lamb put both sex and precision into their tango, as choreographed by Daniel Pelzig.

Brandon Jovanovich, with Gilfry and the men's chorus, belted out a robust "Stouthearted Men" to a grinning audience that later exploded on hearing, "One can be loyal to one's country and forswear its leader."

Other worthy contributors were Simon Jones, Alix Korey, and Danny Rutigliano. A clear fit as an unlikable villain, F. Murray Abraham relished his every syllable.

With lovely lighting by Ken Billington and attractive costumes coordinated by Michael Krass, all were caught as if in a time warp by John Lee Beatty's gilt-edged frames. Rob Fisher musical-directed chorus and orchestra in what was surely one of Encores!'s finest hours.

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