The enormous New York City Center was packed last night for the City Center Encore presentation of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, the classic "dumb blonde" musical that made a star out of Carol Channing and provided one of Marilyn Monroe's most famous film vehicles. Much of the excitement about this particular Encores presentation was focused on Megan Hilty's portrayal of Lorelei Lee. Hilty has had leading roles in Broadway musicals, but her fame quotient rose significantly with her role on the tv show, SMASH. Hilty wisely chose not to imitate her famous predecessor in the role, but gave us a post-feminist Lorelei who may not be a mistress of the English language, but certainly knows how to turn circumstances to her advantage. Under the guidance of director John Rando and musical director Rob Berman, she saw the anger and triumph in the lyrics Leo Robin wrote for Lorelei. Channing made Lorelei a cartoon. Monroe made her another version of the Monroe persona. Hilty made her a shrewd survivor who uses what she has (body and brains). Hilty is a fine comic actress and a good singer who moves well. I haven't been crazy about her on SMASH, but clearly Hilty is a stage animal.
Everything about this Encores production was well done. Effective staging, delightful choreography and, as always, then highest musical values from the great band, chorus and principals. Minimal sets, but lovely costumes for the principals.
Rachel York didn't make as much out of Lorelei's "chaperone," Dorothy. The men were all fine, particularly Aaron Lazar, who gets some of the major ballads.
In some ways, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES is an old-fashioned, not totally integrated show. Lord knows, not all of the numbers are motivated by the story line, but it's a Jule Styne score, which means that the songs are all worth singing. Encores pares down the dialogue and this version wisely focused on Lorelei's scenes and trimmed everyone else. Everyone tried to be off book (not always the case in Encores presentations), in Ms. Hilty's case, sometimes with hilarious results.
There were hundreds of show queens in the audience, of course, but everyone had a ball. I think most of us were surprised at how funny the dialogue still is. Delightful!
GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES. New York City Center. May 12, 2012.