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Windwood Productions’ touring version of the Roaring Twenties musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, presented Feb. 7th in Duke University’s Page Auditorium by Broadway at Duke, is entertaining but too long. (It runs nearly two-and-a-half hours.) Director/choreographer Paula Hammons Sloan needs to set a brisker pace and speed up some of the glacially slow scene changes that squander comic momentum.
Christina Wolfe, who plays former Ziegfeld Follies girl-turned-golddigger Lorelei Lee of Little Rock, Arkansas, is curvaceous and cute; but she is not quite the blonde bombshell that Marilyn Monroe or even Carol Channing, two of her most famous predecessors in the role, were. Wolfe also has trouble getting her husky voice around some of Leo Robin’s more intricate lyrics.
Lindsey Clayton plays Lorelei’s fellow showgirl, best friend, and traveling companion Dorothy Shaw with plenty of personality; and Dawn Timm and Gabriel Beck both give crowd-pleasing performances as Mrs. Ella Spofford and her handsome but somewhat priggish son Henry, who will not let his mother indulge her taste for alcohol if he can help it. (Timm is especially good as a Desperate Housewife, circa 1924, who ultimately throws caution to the wind.)
Nick Mannix is rather bland as buttoned-down junior button magnate Gus Esmond Jr., the well-heeled but inexplicable apple of Lorelei’s roving eye; but Robert Biedermann and Jean Liuzzi are a couple of pips as Sir Francis Beekman and his wife Lady Phyllis Beekman, an elderly English couple whom Lorelei and Dorothy meet onboard the Ile de France. The ship has barely docked in France before the randy Sir Francis abandons the stuffy and increasingly suspicious Lady Phyllis to run off with Dorothy, Lorelei, and their flapper friends.
James Corrothers cuts a fine figure as Josephus Gage, the genial button king whose new fastener threatens put button makers out of business; Miki Berg adds an amusing characterization as a strange ethereal Isadora-Duncan-style dancer and free spirit; and Gary Leimkuhler contributes a nice comic cameo as Gus Esmond Sr., the indignant invalid button magnate in a wheelchair who must pursue his prodigal son all the way from the Big Apple to Gay Paree.
Although she needs to tighten the show’s overall pacing, director/choreographer Paula Hammons Sloan contributes some dynamic dance routines, especially in the show’s nightclub sequences; and musical director and conductor Steve Zumbrun (keyboards) and his seven-piece orchestra put pizzazz into the effervescent score by Jule Styne (music) and Leo Robin (lyrics). Scenic designer Michael Ward provides some striking scenery for this Trans-Atlantic caper, and costume designer Jose M. Rivera and hair, wig, and make-up designer Patricia DelSordo superbly dress, style, and make-up the cast.
Broadway at Duke: http://www.duke.edu/web/duu/broadway/index.html [inactive 9/07]. Windwood Productions: http://www.windwoodtheatricals.com/gentlemen_blondes.htm [inactive 5/08].