Theater Reviews

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Venue: Dicapo Opera Theatre, New York (Through Nov. 22)

Having previously essayed the role in "Hizzoner" and a revival of the musical "Fiorello!" Tony Lo Bianco again portrays the legendary New York City mayor in "La Guardia."

This solo show -- adapted from the former play (written by Paul Shyre) and directed by the actor -- is an entertaining biographical drama that should prove particularly popular with older audiences.

Performed on a nicely detailed set re-creating Fiorello La Guardia's Gracie Mansion office, the show takes place in 1945 on the last day of his third term, with the folksy politico reminiscing about his life and career.     

After an introductory montage of snippets from vintage radio broadcasts that nicely sets the scene, the play has LaGuardia relating his rise to power, from being the first Italian-American elected to Congress to overcoming the opposition of the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine to become mayor.

The piece is not exactly subtle in its attempt to illustrate the modern-day relevance of the issues facing its subject, as illustrated by the actor's impassioned delivery of a vintage campaign speech about the need for affordable housing and health care that could have been written yesterday. (Not to mention La Guardia's demurral of seeking a fourth term: "They say that if you stay mayor too long, you're apt to become bossy.")

The personal elements of its subject's life also are freely drawn upon, with La Guardia's account of the tragic death of his first wife and infant daughter from TB proving an emotional highpoint.

Well mimicking La Guardia's trademark high-pitched, Noo-Yawk-accented voice and occasionally lapsing into Yiddish and Italian to good effect, Lo Bianco delivers a highly energetic and entertaining turn.

The show has its occasionally awkward, didactic elements, including the recital of a laundry list of notable Italians from throughout history. But at its best -- like when the actor re-creates La Guardia's legendary reading of the funny papers on the radio during a newspaper strike -- it casts a warm nostalgic glow.

Presented by: MNA Prods.
Cast: Tony Lo Bianco.
Playwright-director: Tony LoBianco.
Lighting designer: Paul Jones.
Costume designer: Patrizia Von Brandenstein.


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