Although "Rose-Marie" was hailed in 1924 as one of the first operettas to integrate music and plot, it seems a most preposterous marriage today. The saga of a gallant French-Canadian maid and her stalwart love, unjustly accused of murder, is as rigged as a Tammany Hall rally. If the show has endured over the years, it's for the richness of the Rudolf Friml/Herbert Stothart score.
And that score is robustly sung in the revival that opened last night in the Museum of Natural History's Baird Auditorium. Scheduled through Sunday, this is the first offering of the season in the Smithsonian's American Musical Theater series, a worthy endeavor that, in the present instance, falls somewhere between a concert version and a fully staged production.
Actually, this "Rose-Marie" falls a bit awkwardly between the two. There are just enough sets, costumes and dance numbers to suggest the contours of the original, but not nearly enough to qualify as an authentic fleshing out. Part of the appeal of the American operetta is its extravagant sumptuousness, and this version does appear to have come out of the attic trunk.
Still, the melodies linger on. Lest you forget, "Pretty Things," "The Mounties" and "Only a Kiss" are among the more indestructible. And when Ron Raines and Debra Vanderlinde pair up for the romantic cascades of "Indian Love Call," the show takes on the romantic glow for which it has been celebrated.
Laura Waterbury and Mark Basile are pleasant enough partners in comic relief, even if most of the jokes have long since sprung a leak. And Michael O'Flaherty's piano accompaniment is quite as full as you could hope.
On balance, however, the wisest tactic is probably to close your eyes and just listen. That way, you'll get the best of this production and be spared the worst.