Drury Lane’s extravagant musicals are nothing if not polished—even with a last-minute casting swap. Originally slated for the role immortalized by Gene Kelly in MGM’s iconic 1952 movie musical, Sean Palmer (Stanford’s model-like boyfriend in Sex and the City) dropped out of Bill Jenkins’s production following a knee injury, pushing back the show’s opening mid-previews. Stepping in is Broadway veteran Tony Yazbeck, bringing a slick, affable smile to the G-rated misfit showman on the cusp of the 1920s talkie takeover.
Jenkins’s production plays out with reverence for its source material mostly by way of imitation, made even more self-aware by a surprise drop-in video visit from Debbie Reynolds herself. Jelly-legged nice guy Matthew Crowle pays homage to Donald “Make ’Em Laugh” O’Connor, and in the charmingly self-pitying “What’s Wrong with Me?,” Melissa Van Der Schyff amusingly broadens screechy silent-screen diva Lina Lamont with some welcome and genuinely funny shades of Cyndi Lauper. Kevin Depinet’s scenic design drips with throwback studio soundstage grandeur, while lighting designer Julie Mack gives warm, Technicolor attention to the engrossing and disarming “Beautiful Girl.”
When it comes to distinguishing itself from a TCM viewing with its own personality, though, Drury Lane’s production comes up a little dry, even as Yazbeck kicks rainwater into the orchestra bank of subscribers (all giddy and eager to put their provided ponchos to use). Perhaps Yazbeck’s limited rehearsal time accounts for the limited chemistry; as he sings “Good Morning” alongside Crowle and charming love interest Jenny Guse, the trio comes across as three well-crafted solo acts rather than chums on a mission.