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Everybody knows that Washington Street is Broadway's guinea pig, thus it is superfluous to say that Dwight Wiman's "Great Lady" ran twenty-seven minutes overtime last night, that the first two numbers get the show off to a very slow start, that in several of the chorus numbers the singing is off cue and inaudible, or, that the show "has the makings of" this or that.
Such criticism is worthless, and a musical should be judged not with vague phrases of pseudo-theatrical appreciation but from the point of view of entertainment alone. In entertainment Mr. Wiman has scored again; like "I Married an Angel," "Great Lady" has the gay, colorful, humorous touch that springs only from the talent of a master in the art of musical production.
"Live" magazine delves into the past of an American tavern girl who would become a lady; that she never quite succeeds until age has given her a dignity that might well pass as gentility is immaterial, for the course of her peregrinations on her quest provide a bonanza of risque and highly humorous situations.
Norma Terris, playing the tavern girl, owns the show by virtue of her singing and her extremely attractive manner in the part. This wench of low estate, nee Eliza Bowen of Providence, Rhode Island, believes a woman can achieve anything she wishes if only she marry the right man. Successively she become an actress, the wife of a prominent American merchant, Stephan Jumel, and finally Mrs. Aaron Burr; throughout all this she keeps a rabid fan of Napoleon on her mind and in her heart.
By their light treatment, the authors, Earle Crooker and Lowell Brentano, have kept the production from being a mere musical biography, and by the introduction of "Live" have prevented it from becoming a mere period piece; moreover, the transition between scenes--America and France, the present and the past--is made admirably clear by a writing device known as "Telautograph Projection."
In the cast, Tullio Carminati, as Jumel, is excellent, and Irene Bordoni, playing a French dressmaker who becomes a countess, is, as always, delightful; Shepperd Strudwick, the Napoleon addict is adequate, but his performance lacks sureness. Frederick Loewe's music is pleasant if not catching, the outstanding number being "Why Can't This Night Last Forever." William Dollar's choreography is often striking, but over balanced with quasi-ballet. Albert Johnson's revolving sets are superb.
In short, "Great Lady" is a fine show, and if it ran all night it would still be good entertainment.
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