Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Ruby and company make "Nanette" a gem

Cleveland Press April 23, 1971

Even in a good musical comedy season,which this is not, this show would deserve to be a success. The revival of the 1925 musical has been done with elegance, style and an abundance of talent.

Between the Vincent Youmans score "I Want to be Happy" and "Tea for Two" among the songs and the presence of Ruby Keeler and Patsy Kelly there is enough nostalgia unleashed to engulf the entire theater. I swear there were furtive tears being wiped away while heads nodded happily to the melodies. I'll confess to a lump in my throat at several points.

THE EMOTIONAL JAG reaches its height when Ruby Keeler starts dancing to "I Want to be Happy" backed by a stage full of dancers. Miss Keeler is 60 but she is lithe, light and talented. This is Miss Keeler of the old Busby Berkeley musical movies of the 30's, the Ruby Keeler of the late, late show. She can still tap and soft shoe with the best of them. The same lock of hair falls over her forehead and she pushes it back in the same way and suddenly you are spinning back in time to a period that was undoubtedly more naive but also was simpler and happier.

Nostalgia comes in waves throughout the evening. You can feel it washing over the audience of the packed 46th St. Theater. Often there is applause at the beginning of a number as well as at the end. Clearly the producers have given the public what it wants. A song is sung and then from out of the wings comes a chorus to back the principals as they dance their way for a second time around. Enough? Hardly. For the best of the numbers there is a brief reprise and the audience couldn't be happier.

"NO, NO, NANETTE" has one of those crazy plots of the type that served most musicals of the period. It was silly and was there only as an excuse to hang a few songs on.

This one has the complications about loyal husbands being suspected of extracurricular affairs but finally being proved innocent. And in the midst of that there is the pretty ingenue and the very, very young man who are falling in love.

Ruby Keeler is married to Jack Gilford, a near-millionaire Bible publisher who has been handing out sums of money to three cuties in a strictly platonic way. Miss Keeler's best friend is Helen Gallagher who is married to Bobby Van Gilford's lawyer. Miss Keeler's niece is Susan Watson, the Nanette of the title and her boy friend is Roger Rathburn. It is these two who duet "Tea for Two."

THE SHOW HAS BEEN neither updated nor camped and whatever may seem campy about it is inherent to the work itself, not its presentation. Everything is lavish about the show -- the flapper dresses, the bell-bottom trousers, the wild dashes of color, the large choruses. The pit band sounds like something off an old phonograph record but without the scratches. The arrangements use twin pianos, clarinets and saxophones.

The dialog sounds quaint. "Mercy me," exclaims Gilford at every new bit of trouble.

"No decent woman has $200,' charges the boy friend to Nanette. "Where did you get it? "

None of your beeswax," she replies.

Everyone in the cast gets to show off.

Helen Gallagher has a wonderful torch song. Gilford bumbles around as only Gilford can. Bobby Van dances in the best tradition of the old hoofers and Miss Watson and Rathburn sing splendidly.

AND THEN THERE is Patsy Kelly. Wonderful Patsy Kelly, the perennial servant. She's fatter and older but she's always on -- with a wink, a sneer; a gesture, a toss of her head. She handles a vacuum cleaner as though it were her enemy. She storms and rages and she's wonderful and everyone loves her.

There are the busy Berkeley girls (the old fellow had a hand in the show) and they are as usual cute and pretty and adorned with vacant looks.

And best of all is the music, the kind you hum coming out of a theater. Actually, it's the kind you hum going in, too -- that old nostalgia again.