Connecticut's Goospeed Opera House, which created ist own early '30s to introduce "Annie," now revives an actual musical of 1928, "Whoopee!," which opened last night at the Kennedy Center Opera House ofr a urn through Jan. 28.
Under Frank Corsaro's direction, all hands pick this show up tenderly, and while it must be admitted that the Opera House is too grand, too vast for so small a gem, a little gem it is thanks to a grand score by Walter Donaldson for Gus Kahn's lyrics and to the fellow who, 50 years later, follows Eddie Cantor in a part he played, off and on, for years.
This feliow is named Charles Repole and he looks like the little man on the wedding cake who tips off to go dancin', dancin', dancin', Repole made a hit a few seasons back in another Goodispeed revival which went to Broadway, "Very Good Eddie." Small, dark and limber, he has a puckish face. Had he been there at the command, "Shoot when you see the whites of their eyes," Repole would have been hit first.
Most wisely he dosen't try to ape Cantor, which wouldn't have meant much now anyway. He simply creates a cheerful ittle hypochondriac who learns to take off his glasses and run like a man. The sheriff is after him, so are the Indians and so is his nurse. If the plot sounds vaguely familiar, it's from an old play by Owen Davis, "The Nervous Wreckm," that William Anthony McGuire turned into Ziegfeld's Cantor vehicle.
The Donaldson-Dahn songs are worth reviving for they include such numbers as "makin' Whoopee," "I'm Bringing a Red, Red Rose," "Love Me or Leave Me," "My Baby Just Cares for Me" and "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby." Of the last two, "My Baby Just Cares for Me" was added when Cantor did the film version and the last was one of the songs Donaldson and Kahn composed as a Tin Pan Alley single. Alfred Simon, an aficionado of such things, suggested the additions, Russell Warner created the refined, mellow orchestrations and Lynn Crigler leads the pit orchestra and keeps the tempo perking smoothly.
The cast has been enlarged from the 400-seat Goodspeed summer revival, and it was interesting tht last night's quickest reactions came from the balcony of the large theater. In New York, the show's destination, the smaller ANTA Theater will fit the production better.
For it isn't the Goodspeed way to slam home these revivals so they'll take off the roof. Producer Michael Price is intensely serious about trying to catch the gentle verve of old musical hits. While there is some camping, it's held to a minimum and the plot knows that it's silly. The ingenue, Beth Austin, totters about on her period blue shoes, strikes pretty poses and looks adoringly up at the tall Indian whose tribe and her father forbid her to marry.
Still, if the story's silly and knows it, there's a great deal of territory covered, including sanctity of the reservation, discovery of oil and all sorts of minor characters who ge t their cracks at songs and comedy spots. They weren't being wasteful at that time, either. With more characters you get more variety.
Through all this Repole swirls, taps, hoofs, flies, with a kinds of bashful abandon. There's a gloriously foolish Indian dance, "The Tapahoe Tap," which mayhap choreographer Dan Siretta made up. There's self-mocking chief, Black Eagle, to whom actor Leonard Drum gives a nice touch of wry. There's the soubrette, Repole's smitten nurse, played by Carol Swarbrick, which means she gets to sing the number that became Ruth Etting's theme song, "Love Me or Leave Me."
Franc Luz, who sings his red rose throughout, is amusingly solemn about it all an I liked Catherine Cox who, as a spoiled, lean, rich girl, gets to sing "You, Gee, But You're Wonderful, You." The period costumes, shoes, make-up and hairdos have their charms and if you want to be carried back to B.C (Before the Crash), "Whoopee!" gives it a nice, flavorsome tang. "Whoopee!" and that little man from the wedding cake, beamish Repole.