Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse, New York
Through Jan. 6
Theatricality reigns in "The Glorious Ones," the jaunty, sexy and completely entertaining new musical from Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty ("Ragtime"), directed by Graciela Daniele ("Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life") and receiving its New York premiere at Lincoln Center Theater.
The theme is comedy -- specifically, commedia dell'arte, the highly improvisational form of stage antics that emerged in 16th century Italy, largely because of an acting troupe headed by Flaminio Scala (strapping, strong-voiced Marc Kudisch), to whom the musical pays tribute. Commedia, this musical asks us to accept, is the source of much modern comedy, including the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin.
In the intimate Mitzi E. Newhouse space -- outfitted by designer Dan Ostling with a miniature wooden platform and a second level that accommodates the nine-person orchestra -- Flaminio's skilled band of players take the stage. There is Columbina (Natalie Venetia Belcon), a raunchy leading lady; the masked, elderly Pantalone (the marvelous David Patrick Kelly); a comical dwarf (Julyana Soelistyo, who is sensational); and the supposedly learned Dottore (John Kassir). Soon, two more join the group: Francesco Andreini (Jeremy Webb), for whom Flaminio invents the cunning, acrobatic servant Arlecchino; and the lovely actor-playwright Isabella Andreini (Erin Davie).
In the recent past, Ahrens and Flaherty ran afoul when adapting a novel for their musical "Dessa Rose" (also at LCT); the musical's book was lost amid an overly intricate plot.
But here, though basing "The Glorious Ones" on Francine Prose's 1974 novel, they easily weave Flaminio's theatrical high jinks with his personal rise and fall and with the changes that Isabella Andreini brings to commedia. Add to Ahrens' book her clever lyrics and a melodious, lively score from Flaherty -- adeptly orchestrated by Michael Starobin -- and the team accomplishes a seamless blend of amusing commedia sketches, hilarious comic bits and underlying story.
The material is an excellent fit for director-choreographer Graciela Daniele ("Chronicle of a Death Foretold"), who elicits the grace as well as the humor from commedia's stock characters with their sometimes angular movements, pantomime, tumbles and pratfalls -- all of which this excellent cast performs to a turn.
If there is a drawback, it's the show's need to connect comedy past with comedy present, as though audiences might not "get it." The creative team needn't have worried. With its large serving of comedy and dollop of pathos, this small-scale show should be a popular item at regional theaters.
THE GLORIOUS ONES
Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse
Book: Lynn Ahrens, based on novel by Francine Prose
Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens
Music: Stephen Flaherty
Director-choreographer: Graciela Daniele
Orchestrations: Michael Starobin
Music director: David Holcenberg
Set designer: Dan Ostling
Costume designer: Mara Blumenfeld
Lighting designer: Stephen Strawbridge
Sound designer: Scott Stauffer
Flaminio Scala: Marc Kudisch
Pantalone: David Patrick Kelly
Columbina: Natalie Venetia Belcon
Armana Ragusa: Julyana Soelistyo
Dottore: John Kassir
Isabella Andreini/Young Boy Actor: Erin Davie
Francesco Andreini/Comic Servant: Jeremy Webb