One of the most admirable things about the Irish Repertory Theatre is its willingness to stray beyond the standard Irish repertoire. This wanderlust has now led director Charlotte Moore to New Girl in Town, a 1957 musical remembered today mainly through a cast album that preserves the performances of original stars Gwen Verdon and Thelma Ritter. Adapted from Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, the show is very much a 1950s-Broadway memento: It has a book by old-school master George Abbott, and marked the debut of composer Bob Merrill, whose previous credits included the perky novelty songs “Mambo Italiano” and “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window.”
The authors’ sensibilities do not jibe naturally with O’Neill’s 1921 romantic drama about a former prostitute seeking redemption through love. The period show-tuniness of New Girl in Town’s score sometimes works to ironic advantage, especially in Anna’s first number, “On the Farm,” a bitter up-tempo about rural molestation (“In the barn with Uncle Jake / If you squeal you get the rake”); elsewhere, however, it slips into corny sentiment (“With all her broken dreams it’s no surprise / The sunshine girl has raindrops in her eyes”).
Moore’s energetic production doesn’t try hard for a realistic edge. (Perhaps for the sake of the costumes, she resets the story in the Prohibition era, though much of it takes place in a saloon.) Margaret Loesser Robinson, as Anna, leans a little hard on her choices but has a strong, lovely voice; Patrick Cummings is suitably ardent as her seafaring beau, while Cliff Bemis brings solid groundedness to the role of her belatedly protective Swedish father. And it’s nice to see Into the Woods’ original Little Red, Danielle Ferland, put another juicy role in her basket as Bemis’s gruff live-in girlfriend. Invigorated by Barry McNabb’s space-maximizing choreography, this revival makes a pleasant case for a second-tier show; she’s quaint, but there’s life in the old girl yet.—Adam Feldman
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