Lots of folks remember Marilyn Monroe played the lead in the ’50s film, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. But few of us recall that show began as a hit Broadway musical that put legendary chanteuse Carol Channing on the map back in 1949. That star-making vehicle was also the first big show to spoof the Jazz Age.
Ever intrepid Circle Theatre has mounted yet another seldom revived musical. This old-fashioned, unashamedly superficial show celebrates two zany Ziegfeld Follies chorus cuties-“Two Little Girls from Little Rock”-who are both determined to find rich husbands. The pair of good-time gold-diggers is en route to Paris on a transatlantic ocean liner, the Ile de France. Frankly, there’s not an actual idea in the entire paper-thin plot-not that that’s a bad thing, mind you. Perhaps we need light-hearted escapism now more than ever.
Even when this musical was new, it was considered a throwback, based on a 1925 novel by Anita Loos. Its Broadway contemporaries were deeper shows like South Pacific and Kiss Me, Kate. Yet there’s no denying director Kevin Bellie and company have captured the glossy charm that makes Gentlemen Prefer Blondes such a bouncy good time.
Perhaps the reason there are so few revivals of this show is that in the public consciousness people may identify the leading role as Marilyn Monroe’s. Fortunately Bellie disregarded that challenge. Also choreographer, Bellie has his large company of 20 presenting seemingly nonstop dazzling, nostalgic numbers. The ensemble all plays multiple roles so the cast seems even larger than it is.
The adorable, hugely energized performers sing and dance their hearts out. The Jule Styne score is upbeat and lively. There are surprisingly many familiar tunes-like “Bye, Bye Baby” and “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” (one of Marilyn Monroe’s signature songs.) A wonderfully colorful number, “It’s Delightful Down in Chile,” features fun rhumba and tango style choreography and eye-popping Carmen Miranda style fruit basket headgear on the dancers.
With her golden ’20s marcelled hair, Rachel Quinn as Lorelei Lee is the quintessential blonde bombshell. Yet she takes on the role as her own rather than copying either Marilyn Monroe or Carol Channing.
Lorelei’s sarcastic but level-headed brunette best friend, played in the film by buxom Jane Russell, is Brigitte Ditmars. She’s a superb singer and dancer.
Lorelei’s nerdish, gullible millionaire boyfriend, heir to a button manufacturing fortune, is nimbly played by Scott Neild.
Though perhaps too youthful for her role, Elizabeth Hope Morgan is stately as a champagne-guzzling matron befriended by Lorelei as a ruse for getting closer to her son (Jeremy Myers.)
A hen-pecked aristocrat (Brian Rabinowitz) helps Lorelei swindle his dowager wife (Patti Roeder) out of a diamond tiara.
Tom McGunn is a riot as a carrot-eating, health nut, zipper manufacturer who sings about the joys of “roughage” in “I’m A Tingle, I’m Aglow.”
Character actor Kirk Swenk is especially enjoyable in several unique minor roles.
If one pondered any of this material very long it would register as sexist and politically incorrect. A greedy dumb blonde uses her physical charms to dupe and ensnare wealthy men. The plot mostly revolves around heavy-duty drinking and partying. But that’s typically always been the allure of any Prohibition era musical.
This show is so old people refer to fun-loving Paris as “Gay Paree.”
Like the champagne that the characters keep drinking, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes provides a bubbly, sparkling evening that vividly illustrates Circle Theatre’s skill in staging and revitalizing lesser-known, seldom seen musicals that are worth another look.