Who could argue with the fact that Harold Arlen was one of the Great American Songbook’s most pre-eminent composers, emerging from a Cantorial family in Buffalo, New York, and eventually writing some of our most cherished film songs.
The musical revue The Three Crooners (George Bugatti, Marcus Goldhaber, Joe Shepherd and featuring Antoinette Henry), at St. Luke’s Theatre captures many of the great Arlen hits. The music is deliciously divine but, unfortunately, the revue doesn’t get off the ground as it could if it had a stronger, slicker cast to match the musical treasures.
Conceived by Sam Arlen (Harold’s son), George Bugatti (writer) and Nigel Wright, the 80 minutes is pleasantly spent because the music is so wonderful. Bugatti is the strongest of the crooners, both vocally and in his ability to infuse many of the tunes, i.e. Anyplace I Hang My Hat is Home (also playing piano), with inflections and variations that are meaningful. Happily, Antionette Henry is in the mix and comes up as the star of the show!
Ms. Henry exhibits the depth and raw emotion that make her songs come alive such as Blues in the Night (Johnny Mercer, lyrics) and Stormy Weather (Ted Koehler, lyrics) written for Ethel Waters where it was sung at the Cotton Club in 1933. She called Arlen “the negro-est white man I ever met.” Henry shines on the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer favorite Come Rain or Come Shine that Pearl Bailey sang in St. Louis Woman. Ms. Henry understands that it’s all about the lyrics and allowing your soul to emerge in song.
There are ensemble numbers, some that work better than others, like the sassy Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day, the Crooners in white tails, and other full cast numbers with good harmonies, that are also infused with dance moves and steps that aren’t a particular enhancement for a group that looks uncomfortable in dance mode. There’s lots of backstage gossip that helps to enliven and some good video slides especially the personal ones of Arlen.
A favorite moment is the Wizard of Oz medley - - Harold Arlen and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg were given two months to write the score and Over the Rainbow was almost cut by the producers. The song went on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Ah, producers!
There are also some fine arrangements by Steve Rawlins, Arty Schroeck and Chris Hoffman. Musical Direction is by Andrew Smithson on piano accompanied by bass and drums. Direction and Musical Staging by Gene Castle gives the cast lots to do and maybe less would be more in this case. The cast uses vests, jackets, hats to accessorize (costume design by Amy Pedigo-Otto).
If you treasure the music of iconic songwriting legend Harold Arlen, you’ll walk away singing and humming, which is not a bad thing!
Performances run at St. Luke’s Theatre, 308 West 46 St., NYC on Mondays, 7 pm, Wednesdays, 2 pm and Thursdays, 8 pm.www.telecharge.com 212 239-6200