There you have it. Little Me, Tulane Summer Lyric’s first production of the 2007 season has all the elements for success. Based on the novel by Patrick Dennis (the author of Auntie Mame, the novel), Neil Simon’s book, with music and lyrics by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, is a prime choice to showcase the comic talent of Ricky Graham as well as other around-the-town favorites and a few crowd-pleasers who summer on the Tulane stage.
Originally written with television pioneer Sid Caesar as the drawing card – and for his zany characterizations - Little Me was revised on Broadway not too long ago featuring Martin Short. If you’re familiar with either or both of those actors, you can see why Ricky Graham’s multi-faceted approach to comedy is just the right headliner to fill the theatre. As Noble Eggelston, and a host of other characters who go rapidly and repeatedly on and off stage, Graham mugs to the audience, changes characters, delivers punchy one-liners, throws in a couple of apparent ad-libs and keeps the show moving along. Co-directors Edmond Kresley and Michael Howard did a fine job of showcasing Graham’s strengths.
Little Me is the fictional, biographical tale of Belle Poitrine and her adventurous quest for wealth, culture and social position. Older Belle recalls her life while author Patrick Dennis takes notes for the impending novelization – flashbacks illustrate Belle’s life, with lots of singing and dancing, of course.
Tulane’s production was entertaining but just a little bit too long – I observed several people taking short naps every now and then. Perhaps the challenge to understand what some characters were saying seemed to add extra minutes.
I really had a hard time understanding Mildred Hong, who plays the Older Belle. Even though I sat only a few feet from her and could clearly see each blink of her eye, I lost about 20 percent of what she was saying. I wonder if the balcony and way-back audiences were as hearing challenged as I was? Considering Older Belle is literally dictating her life as it unfolds on stage, such a challenge was distracting and frustrating. Her songs were executed excellently, however, and the duet with Young Belle in the title song was a delight.
Adrienne Couvillion as Young Belle is the epitome of what Tulane Summer Lyric is all about, in my opinion – outstanding voices. Couvillion can act, dance, gather some laughs and more than anything else, she can sing. Although her vocal numbers are not the more popular tunes of the show, her presentation is powerful. She handled her hat falling off during one number with ease but did seem to have trouble in a couple of scenes trying to avoid spilling out of her bosom-bearing costume.
Sean Patterson and Gary Rucker, who have worked together many, many, times in local arenas and played many, many roles in Little Me, were outstanding when they teamed up as the Buchsbaum Brothers, especially in “Be a Performer” but equally entertaining in their individual assignments. Patterson’s take on a German Officer and Rucker's as Pinchley Junior are on the topside of slapstick but only add to Graham’s delivery in related scenes.
“I’ve Got Your Number” is probably my favorite song from the show. Stephen Lukas as Lucky Musgrove did a fine job with the number although his “stripping” along the way to entice Young Belle seemed a little bit too contemporary for the World War I time line.
The ensemble, as usual in a Summer Lyric production, was near flawless. Edmond Kresley’s choreography was executed extremely well. I particularly liked the “Rich Kids Rag” early on in the show. Costume design by Charlotte Lang and set design by Rick Paul, met the excellent standards you expect from the 40-year old summer series. The shimmery, shiney silver curtain sets a tone of fun and glitz the minute you walk into the theatre.
Musical director and conductor C. Leonard Raybon and his full orchestra deserve a standing ovation. I would not have minded just listening to the music without the lyrics. Clearly, the Summer Lyric orchestra is not only talented, but also its members enjoy their significant role.
Little Me was not the best I have seen over the years at Tulane Summer Lyric, but to be honest, I wouldn’t mind seeing it again.
Back Row Facts:
Length of Play: two hours and 40 minutes, but it seemed longer to me.
Language and Lewd Factor –bumping and thumping in most of the choreography. No bad language, more than several double entendres.
Family fitness - too complicated a plot for young kids, who probably couldn’t sit still for more than a couple of scenes. Not sure today’s young person would appreciate much of this unless they are musical comedy fans.
It’s a puzzlement! Has it really been 40 years since Tulane Summer Lyric opened? Does anyone remember the lack of air-conditioning? Or, more importantly, the lack of bathrooms?