We had an early Valentine’s Day date yesterday afternoon as we went to New York City Center for the Encores! production of Applause, the 1970 Tony Winning Best Musical. Applause is a musical version of the classic 1950 Bette Davis movie All About Eve.
The show’s plot, like the movie, revolves around a stage and screen star who worries, rightfully so, about being undercut by a scheming understudy who wants to take over her stardom. The book is no where near as sharp as Eve’s screenplay (even though the book was written by Comden & Green).
We had never seen this show and we leapt at the chance to see it when it was announced as part of the Encores! season. The cast was top notch for this one-weekend only concert staging: Grey Gardens Tony Winner Christine Ebersole, Erin Davie (who co-starred in Grey Gardens), Kate Burton (currently in Spring Awakening), Mario Cantone (best known for his supporting role on Sex and the City), Tom Hewitt (Rocky Horror Show) and Chip Zien (Falsettos and Into the Woods).
In prep for the show I listened for the first time to the Original Cast recording of Applause, which starred Lauren Bacall in the Margo Channing role. The Encores! cast certainly outsang Bacall and her company. Bacall’s singing voice was not great, in fact she sounded a lot like you might imagine Bette Davis in the role. Ebersole, however, has a wonderful voice that gave the Charles Strouse/Lee Adams score the sound it deserved.
There was a nice additional touch in the title number, which is sung by Broadway dancers at Joe Allen’s (the famous theater district eatery). In the song, the dancers perform parts of songs and dances from other shows. For the Encores! staging, instead of using the shows from the original production, all of the songs were from other shows that Encores! produced including Chicago, Hair, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Wonderful Town, Bye Bye Birdie and more. It was like a quick pop quiz as song after song rolled across the stage. Here’s a chance to see the original version of that song, featuring original cast member Bonnie Franklin (yes, from One Day At A Time), and shows like Caberet, Oklahoma! and West Side Story woven into the number.
It would be great if this show could be recorded. A new Applause CD seems deserved to document this cast’s fine performances. It can happen sometimes with City Center shows… fingers crossed that this can be one of them.
It was a wonderful afternoon at the theatre that we turned into a whole date afternoon because we dropped into Olive Garden for lunch. We end up here about once a year because something really catches are eye in Olive Garden TV commercials. This time it was for the Lasagna Rollatini. Wow was that good. Will had the chicken version and I had the sausage. We were happily stuffed afterwards. Luckily we had a 10 block walk to City Center so that we could let the lunch settle.
One more Applause moment… one that’s been on the blog before… Lauren Bacall and company performing “But Alive” from a CBS television version of the musical.