Going into The Boys From Syracuse, I knew nothing about it other than it was by the Broadway musicals team of Rogers and Hart. “I’m completely unfamiliar with the plot!” I whispered to my companion. Yet a few minutes and flashing togas later, I realized I was wholly familiar with the plot: it was Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors,” my second least favorite of his comedies. Ooh difficult to swallow multiple-twins plot, ooh misogyny, ooh beating servant for laffs. I was a bit worried I was going to find the evening as grating as the play had been done straight, but this show just kind of wallowed into the whole mess with both feet, starting the evening off with the townspeople warbling about “an execution!” Oddly this kind of softened me up for the whole thing, much like a cartoon of a coyote being hit with an anvil doesn’t register as animal cruelty. It was a screwball musical comedy that had nothing to do with how actual Greek people (or even Elizabethan or modern people) behaved, and I could laugh accordingly.
The plot is slight to start with and even more condensed by George Abbot, as it needs to make room for singing; this, I think, is a good plan, giving us less time to worry about things making sense and more time to enjoy the talents of the cast. We’ve got the considerable comic talents of the put-upon Dromio twins (Matthew Cavendish and the rather too handsome Alan McHale), the great legs of the courtesans and town girls, and the very enjoyable voices of the female leads (Carrie Sutton as married Adriana and Cara Dudgeon as her sister Luciana). The women get some great showpieces, including Adriana’s “Falling in Love with Love” and the showstopper trio “Sing for Your Supper” (performed with cook Luce, Natalie Woods) which put me in mind of the Andrews sisters. It was odd that earlier I’d found Aaron Hayes Rogers’ voice somehow clashing with Dudgeon’s in their love duet; was it written funny or … well, fortunately, it was about the end of the first act, but it did leave me feeling out of sorts during the intermission.
While act two picked up quite a bit from the first, I couldn’t help but feel a little fidgety in my chair. To me, The Boys from Syracuse isn’t an A-list musical; it has too much of the episodic feel of 1930s writing, and the songs are not generally memorable. I’d call it a good night out for fans of the golden age of American musicals and certainly a better evening than the big-name Much Ado down the street; but while it went down better than the original, I might have picked a stronger show in general. Still, at the always affordable Union Theater prices, it delivered good value, and I know I’m not the only one who is happy to get to see a rarity like this performed live.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, October 5th, 2013. It continues through October 26th.)