Making a bearnaise sauce is a mysterious thing. I once was putting one together — all the ingredients were blended in perfect proportion, gentle heat was being applied, and the sauce was thickening just as it should — when it suddenly just separated out. Fell apart. I applied some quickly learned emergency measures, and the sauce came back together. Mostly. But I’ve always wondered what went wrong at the stove that evening.
Same thing applies to the current Broadway revival of Rogers and Hart’s The Boys from Syracuse. There’s tons of yummy ingredients to the show — including a pretty good retooled book by Nicky Silver (replacing the George Abbott original) — but only sometimes do all the parts smooth out.
The plot is set out in the opening number, “Hurrah! Hurroo!,” a miracle of compact exposition. The action takes place in Ephesus. Two sets of identical twins — one pair of aristocrats and one pair of slaves — from Syracuse are lost at sea seven years ago. Residents from Syracuse are executed in Ephesus because of their origins unless they can come up with 1000 drachmas. One of the aristocrat twins is established as an Ephesian war hero; the other comes to town to find his twin. Each twin has his respective identical slave with him.
No, really. After the opening number, the show sags for most of the first act as the focus turns on the four romantic leads. But whenever it’s time for the comic leads and supporting players to shine, the pace picks up and the show becomes tons more fun. The second act curtain-raiser, “You Took Advantage of Me,” has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the show, but features four of what I think were once known as chorines. I’ve gotta say, I like the chorines. The audience didn’t quite know what to do with them. Applause would have been good. Whistling would not have been out of order, either. One of them, Dierdre Goodwin, will apparently be in the upcoming movie of Chicago. I’ll be there.
Another high point was the song “Come With Me,” perhaps the merriest song about incarceration short of “Jailhouse Rock.” Fred Inkley gets the credit here.
The female comic lead, Luce, is played by Toni Dibuono in a turn that’s more than slightly reminiscent of a much shorter Bette Midler. The two slaves, both named Dromio, were well played by Lee Wilkog and Chip Zien (who counts among his many distinguished credits the voice of Howard the Duck). Erin Dilly played the engenue, Luciana, well enough, though it appeared that she only remembered to bring her energy on stage after intermission.
Jackee Harry (from TV’s Sister Sister and 227) turns up in a small role as a madam and gets the 11 o’clock number, “Sing for Your Supper.” She doesn’t have great pipes, but carries the song off nicely anyway. And there’s some surprise stunt casting in a very small part deep in the second act. I don’t want to give it away — and I don’t know if it’s the same casting every night — but someone highly recognizable from a classic sitcom popped up on stage last night.
Lighting and staging were first-rate, as always with the Roundabout. Sound design and singing were a little problematic. Unison singing was strong, but levels sometimes dropped out unpredictably when unisons broke into harmony parts. Might have been the miking, might have been the singers. Whatever, it wasn’t quite right.
The Boys from Syracuse runs about two hours plus intermission. This production is a second-acter dream. Show up at the break, and you’ll catch most of what’s great about the show.