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God help America when it gets the Eskimo craze, begins to eat seal blubber and wears its flannels twelve months in the year. Just now the Riffa have got us, and promise to keep us until they have exhausted the Spanish Shawl market and the Morroco Leather Trust. To meet the popular demand Lady Fair has been ground out, and now, on the eve of its New York production it is being given the third degree at the Shubert.
The title of the operetta has little or nothing to do with the show. Faint heart ne're won fair lady, says the heroine. And the hero shows her just how little faint hearted the son of a French general can be. The show is not going to sell on the merits of its love story, but on the strength of its supply of gaud and tinsel. It is one more example of American efficiency. The French and the Spanish have failed miserably and the Spanish have failed miserably to exhaust the possibilities of Morroco. It remained for the American producers of Lady Fair to squeeze the lemon day. North Africa has been combed from West, to East for songs, sets, story, and costumes. And in one conglomerate mass they have been poured out for the glutting of American appetite.
No expense has been spared in the outfitting of the show, and that just about guarantees that somehow of other the producers will see to it that it is a success, if they have to subsidize the metropolitan press for a twelvemonth. The curtain rises on a romantic, and dimly lighted scene, the camp of the Riffian chieftain, the baffling Red Shadow. The Song of the Volga Boatmen contributes its mite as the tribesmen open the play with the Riding song of the Riffs, a rare gem in basso profundo, with excellent time and almost no tune, which will defy college men all over the country who sing tenor and aspire to bass.
From this curtain raiser to the very end of the play, magnificent and gruous scenes follow one another in lightening-like procession. Before, Cecil B. DcMille backdrops, two caoruses heavies and half-points, vie with one another. The little girls dance remarkably, and twice on Monday night succeeded in stopping the show. They are perfectly instructed, and steps which would seem banal if performed in solo seem unbeatable when drummed out in chorus. Their larger sisters make up in voice for their lack of beauty. George Jean Nathan will never award any pretzels to these frauds for looks, but despite the New Yorkese twang to their voices they lend weight to the choruses, and their singing forms and excellent background to the men's voices.
The men are not at all lightfooted, and there is not an Arow Collar model in the lot. They are swarthy and masculine enough to satisfy and Rifflan, standards. And their voices are excellent. But their enunciation is frightful. Of all the songs except those which the comedian talks not more than ten words get over the footlights. And no doubts that is just as well, if the lyrics are no better than jazz operetta demands.
Of these, much touted songs, the hit of the show, taking it for granted that the producers will force Fair Lady down the threat of Broadway, will probably be "It," a very clever adaptation of Elinor Glyn's article on sex appeal. Has she got it? Then she doesn't need good clothes, good looks or even a good name. She's there Miss Mildred Parishette, the heroine of the show, just hasn't got IT. In riding breeches, she almost captures IT, but when she appears as Margarite, she looks like a debutante at the end of a hard winter. Her voice is of that tricky, gymnastic variety which permits its owner to do all sorts of stunts to the great astonishment of the audience, but never enables her to carry clear through a song with any beauty of performance or depth of feeling. A girl must be a triple threat to achieve greatness in a musical comedy, and Miss Parisette can scarcely dance, sings fairly but not remarkably, and is no sort of an actress.
Robert Halliday in the lead, as the Red Sindow, and Eddie Buzzell, the comedian are very fair. Halliday almost satisfies as the two-faced hero, who must be simple-minded or bold and bad in quick alternation. Buzzell has nothing to offer but his lines, and when they fail him, as they so often do, he looks for the wings, but he can always come out well for an encore and never give it a virtue, of the first water.
From the three principals Pearl Ragay snatches the show with two remarkable dances, one noteworthy for its grace, the other of interest for the unbelievable litheness of body it demonstrates. There is nothings in the second dance to please the eye, but anatomists must rally to Lad Fair, if only to learn what the human body can do.
Lady Fair is all that money can make it, and it will continue to be just that during what promises to be a long run on Broadway. Bob Benchley will take it for a ride, and it will deserve all the ride it gets at the hands of that humorist. It takes itself as seriously as possible, and like the well-behaved, stupid child of rich parents that it is it will go a long way.
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