There have been songs written for Broadway musicals that did not receive the attention they deserved. Buried in unpopular shows, over-shadowed by other songs or left out because they didn't fit with the rest of the play, these songs ended up being forgotten. Nightcaps attempts to showcase some of them in an anthology of would-be hits. The result is an enjoyable glimpse of the good entertainment available in historical oblivion, but the production, like the songs themselves, falls just short of total success.
Most of the numbers are well-choreographed and the best are performed with flair. The problem is that Nightcaps relies on momentum to tie the numbers together, and some crucial songs fall flat.
The opening song is "Sing Happy," but none of the cast looks happy. This inauspiciousness yields to an improving humor, however, with "Where Was I When They Passed Out Luck" from Minnie's Boys, a play based on the Marx Brothers. "My City," a throbbingly evil, beautifully choreographed ode to New York City and Stephen Hayes's terrific performance of Stephen Sondheim's "Everybody Says Don't," also succeed in capturing the audience.
Unfortunately, those energetic numbers are sandwiched around some slower songs that do not work nearly so well. Originally written to change the pace of exciting two-hour musicals, they are not sung penetratingly enough or performed interestingly enough to excite melancholy or empathy in the opening act of a short musical revue in the Dunster dining hall.
Free wine flowed at intermission, though, and a more relaxed cast returned with a very funny tongue-in-cheek parody, "Raining in My Heart," from Dames at Sea. The second half of the show is much looser and livelier and the peak of the evening is "Tap Your Troubles Away," which really might convince you to exuberantly thrash your woes with a pair of tap shoes.
Donald Martocchio and Hayes are the tappers smiling their way from adversity to hilarity, and they make the show a success. They have different styles that mesh well, especially when they try to outdance each other; you can sympathize with Hayes' upright stance or with Martocchio's more limber style.
The women are not as good as the men, but much of the blame lies with the format. Limited by dull solos and inadequate staging, the women are struck standing in the middle of the set. They make monotonous gestures and facial expressions and sing in voices too weak to carry the songs.
But when they get a fair chance, they do well. Nikki Mintz finds her niche in comedy in "Raining in My Heart" after falling unsuccessfully between bitter and sweet with "If Love Were All." Judy Banks has a clear, strong voice, well-suited to musicals, but she and Hayes, despite their talent, show the dreary "Who Said Gay Paree" was replaced with "I Love Paris" in Can-Can. And Patty Woo's phrasing and professionalism help, but they are not powerful enough to overcome the material. Her "Anyone Can Whistle" is a soft tune that does work as it should, though, calming the audience after "Tap Your Troubles Away," in preparation for a big finale.
Ironically, the show, which succeeds because it is generally energetic and funny, cannot muster a rousing close. For a moment Toni Bianco seems on the verge of salvaging the last song with a parody of singers who just stand still and use cliched gestures, but it isn't what the audience has come to hope for. The audience calls for more anyway, and, recognizing that they want more of something besides the closing number, the cast reprises "Sing Happy." They are happier now, and the audience is happier now, but the reprise is still a reminder of the parts that didn't click and the obstacles barely overcome.
One of those obstacles is the set. which is actually dysfunctional: it is basically black and decorated with abstract paint dribbles and splotches that provide an effective backdrop for the urban scene described in "My Town," but smother the beauty of the other songs. The lighting is simple, but does nothing to soften the harshness of the set.
Although the musicians are excellent and the costumes clever, neither can provide the needed base to tie the whole show together. The songs in Nightcaps seem chosen at random for no particular purpose with no specific standards. The first half closes with "Anything Goes," hardly a neglected tune. Despite some updated lyrics and dynamic dancing, the song's presence asks the questions "Why these songs? Why this show?" and answers with the song's title.
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