Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
"Oh, Kay!" is far from O.K. In fact, very far. S.O.S. - P.D.Q.
There are, as should be, some advantages to the Gershwin musical of 1927, which opened Tuesday in the Kennedy Center Opera House for a run through Sept. 23: the Gershwin songs, production design by Raoul Pene duBois and some fetching dances choreographed by Donald Saddler.
But wanting, most sorely, is definition of style. Cyma Rubin's production, which opened last month in Toronto, appears to have suffered more than the usual tryout pangs, the cause for which, surely, is lack of decision at the start.
In reviving musical favorites of what seems almost a prehistoric era of innocence, there are two possible courses. One may be totally faithful to the simple-minded, innocent period when plots were acknowledged to be trivial, and the songs, dances and frivolity were all. The other is to try to update, to add, to smirk.
While duBois has steered brightly to the first course with beautifully matched pastels, hair styles, knickers and argyle socks, distrust is in the air. For a possible allusion to the imminent end of Prohibition, the period has been moved forward to 1933, a small matter but indicative.
The plot, initially devisied by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse, two major humorists of the period, and now wrestled into some relevance by Thomas Meehan, concerns bootlegging in Long Island's Hamptons. Financially at sea along with her rickety yacht, England's Lady Kay Wellington supplies the booze which her partner, Shorty McGee, sells to a club-owning thug named Mr. Fresco. Al Fesco. Get it?
Their base of operations is a one-bedroom palace owned by playboy Jimmy, who has a habit of marrying any girl who catches his fancy. And he has very fanciful tastes.Further involved are three of his flames, a senator from Delaware, a crew of rum-runners and beautiful girls in flowing chiffon who pop in and out to sing and dance to the Gershwin songs.
All this is totally unimportant. One is not supposed to believe it, to take it seriously. It should be light and who cares if it's confusing? But the yarn plods, plods and plods.
Too long absent, duBois has lost none of his sure, delicate touch for design, using colors for sets and costumes which tell us about the people and the period. Some lovely girls wear his dresses with chic assurance.
Saddler's dances succeed where his - or someone else's - plot direction collapses. He has fine, attractive dancers and if "Do, Do, Do" and "Clap Yo' Hands" become major production numbers, there's also a grand male quartet (Jon Engstrom, Michael Lichtefeld, J. Thomas Smith and Bob Morrisey)
At best the voices are bland, but, on the other hand, Gertrude Lawrence, Oscar Shaw and Victor Moore, who created the three leads, didn't have great voices.
Visually and physically Jane Summerhays, in the title part, certainly has style, as she showed in "A Chorus Line" and her post-Catholic U. performances. Still, it would be nice if she could find a proper English accent for Lady Kay. Jim Weston is agreeable as the vacillating boy friend and gets to sing such numbers as "I've Got a Crush on You," "Do, Do, Do" and "Oh, So Nice."
Top-billed Jack Weston plays the hapless rum-runner's savior in a key which clearly is developing from performance to performance. He can be a funny man, and when he finds the tone of innocent stupidity, he will score more effectively than he did Tuesday night.