Minsky’s – World Premiere
February 6, 2009, Ahmanson Theatre
The opening number of a musical literally sets the stage for the rest of the production. The ideal opening number is a snapshot that grabs you, previews what is to come and leaves you hungry for more. One of the best opening numbers in musical theatre is Kiss Me Kate’s "Another Op'nin', Another Show."
The world premiere of Minsky’s revealed a possible challenger to that classic opener. “Workin’ Hot” (complete with the seemingly requisite apostrophe) had the audience anticipating what became a glorious evening of top flight musical theatre.
As the curtain opens, the eponymous lead Billy Minsky (superbly performed by Christopher Fitzgerald) comes on stage, trying to breathe life into a moribund dance song plinked out by the songwriter Buster (Keith Cahoon). In short order Billy has developed the song, brought out the dancing girls and spiced up the routine. Indeed, before the song’s end the dancers get into costume (by peeling off their dainty underthings to reveal glittering G-strings and pasties) and the electricity of the evening has been generated.
The Minsky’s creative team emanates from The Drowsy Chaperone, which also had its world premiere at the Ahmanson. Both shows draw on the classic motif of a show-within-a-show (as does the invincible Kiss Me Kate). The Minsky’s book is by Bob Martin with music by Charls Strouse and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, all based on an original book by Evan Hunter.
The plot’s creative tension is based on a love story between Billy Minsky and the daughter of a politician bent on purging Broadway’s smut peddlers. The parallels to current times are further buttressed by Minsky’s 1930 depression-era setting. Regular folks are finding it tough to afford live theatre, and certain public figures want to ensure the entertainment is sufficiently sanitized.
Billy Minsky is juggling the pressures of filling seats and dodging muckracking politician Randolph Sumner (Cheer’s George Wendt) while wooing daughter Mary Sumner (the lovely and able Katharine Leonard). Naturally, the Sumners become more involved in Minsky’s show than they expected. Along the way, a colorful cast is introduced to flesh out the proceedings. The balding comedian, the nebbish accountant, the insightful stage manager and the producer with a nebbish daughter all play their roles with aplomb.
The songs are uniformly clever and catchy.
“Happy” is the scene where Billy and Mary ‘meet cute.’ Each is seeing their shrink in the same building, in parallel sets, until they bump into each other on the street after exiting the offices. “Every Number Needs A Button” closes the first act perfectly, a self-referential tune about how to finish the song-writing process.
The Ahmanson is in the midst of a strong season of musicals under the artistic direction of Michael Ritchie. The season opened with 9 to 5 (heading to Broadway), continued with Spring Awakening (from Broadway) and has Minsky’s until March 1. (The season will end with another musical Ain’t Misbehavin’).
In a better economic times, Minsky’s would be a sure shot for Broadway. It has all the ingredients: great book, memorable songs, safely titillating production numbers, Busby Berkley style tap dancing routines, spinning plates and lots of laughs. Time will tell if it makes the trek east, but see it now while you can.
For more information, visit www.centertheatregroup.org