I have often been accused of being overly analytical and can’t count the number of times I’ve been told to “just relax and enjoy” whatever book, movie, TV show or theatrical production was in my sights. Although I usually relish diving into the complexities of a production, I was happy to sit back, relax and simply enjoy TAP’s La La Lucille. Altogether colorful, boisterous and full of catchy tunes, this musical offered a joyful escape from the real world – and in my case, from my own brain – for three high-energy acts. That’s not to say that the show wasn’t technically and musically complex; it’s to say that the cast made the complicated musical numbers seem effortless. Amid slapstick comedy, zany characters and all-around absurdity were moments that highlighted powerful voices, delightful choreography and talented piano playing.
La La Lucille, George Gershwin’s first Broadway musical, follows Lucille Tuttle Smith; her husband, John Smith; and a quirky ensemble of characters as Lucille and John attempt to orchestrate a divorce in order to receive an irresistible inheritance. Predictably, hilarity ensues. The show has not graced the stage since its premiere in 1919 and, although some of the plot points do seem dated – an unattractive “janitoress” named Fanny is the butt of many jokes, for instance – TAP’s commitment to staging an authentic Gershwin production is admirable. For the show’s 100th anniversary, TAP’s co-artistic director and amateur Gershwin scholar, James Valcq, meticulously reconstructed La La Lucille for the TAP stage from various manuscripts and musical scores – even making use of documents he found at a garage sale when he was 10 years old.
At first, it might seem strange to resurrect a high-energy Broadway musical in a small theater, but TAP was the perfect venue to showcase what matters most about La La Lucille: the music. The audience wasn’t physically removed from the performance as it would have been sitting in the seats of a Broadway theater. The proximity of the actors allowed audience members access to every perfectly placed tap step, exaggerated facial expression and elaborate encounter.
The upright piano, played throughout by Valcq and Ryan Cappleman, stood off stage but acted as a character in its own right. Operating as a musical narrator of sorts, the piano provided a prelude to each scene’s mood and tempo. During the show’s final number, the characters all gathered around the piano while a photo of Gershwin was projected on stage, concluding a ridiculous romp with an unexpectedly heartfelt tribute to its celebrated creator.
La La Lucille has been breaking attendance records at TAP, and there’s still time to see it. It will be staged at the playhouse in Sturgeon Bay through Sept. 1: Wednesday through Saturday, 7:30 pm; and Sunday, 2 pm. Buy tickets online at thirdavenueplayhouse.com, call 920.743.1760, or visit the box office in person.