Thursday, September 3, 2020

322. LORELEI. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975


Carol Channing.

LORELEI [Musical Revival] B: Lenny Solms and Gail Parent; LY: Betty Comden and Adolph Green; SC: the musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (B: Anita Loos and Joseph Fields; M: Jule Styne; LY: Leo Robin); D: Robert Moore; CH: Ernest O. Flatt; S: John Conklin; C: Alvin Colt (Carol Channing’s costumes: Ray Aghayan, Bob Mackie); L: John Gleason; P: Lee Guber and Shelly Gross; T: Palace Theatre; 1/27/74-11/3/74 (321)

Tamara Long, Carol Channing, Dody Goodman.

After an 11-month tour during which it underwent numerous changes, Lorelei came into New York where it was immediately assailed by Douglas Watt as a “a creaky vehicle,” and by Edwin Wilson as “a patchwork job.” The show was essentially a revival of the 1949 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, about Lorelei Lee, a kooky blonde gold digger, but a new book and several new songs had been added. The “terrible new book,” as John Simon deemed it, included much of the old one by placing it within the frame of scenes showing the 1974 wealthy, widowed Lorelei recalling nostalgically the long-lost days of her youth in the Roaring 20s.

Peter Palmer, Carol Channing, Lee Roy Reams, Tamara Long, Brandon Maggart, Dody Goodman.

The effect, several critics averred, was a very fuzzy sense of period; this was, after all, a 1970s update of a 1940s musical about the 1920s albeit played in a 1930s art deco setting Aside from the flashback framing, the show, as Wilson pointed out, had “no raison d’être behind it, no creative impulse at work.” The 1949 star, Carol Channing, was on hand at 51 to recreate the star-making role she first assayed at 26, when she turned “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” into a theatrical legend, seen here in a 1957 TV variety show (with additional lyrics), and amplified by Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 movie version.

Carol Channing, Brandon Maggart.

Though there was little sympathy for the show or its production, Channing’s unique presence had the critics competing for the right adjectives to denote her qualities. “Miss Channing continues to be an impressive national resource,” trumpeted Brenda Gill, and Clive Barnes described her as “two saucer eyes under an overly kempt mop, two great legs and a voice range that goes from a purr to a growl and from a growl to a screech.” To John Simon she was “an overgrown sunflower speaking and singing with the voices of an entire batrachian chorus out of Aristophanes.” And Walter Kerr called her “the only entertainer who can carry a whole show by herself, portal to portal.” Channing’s Lorelei Lee earned the star a Tony nomination as Best Actress, Musical.

Carol Channing.

 For all the focus on Channing, it should be noted that she had a first-class supporting company, including Peter Palmer, Brandon Maggart, Dody Goodman, Tamara Long, and Lee Roy Reams,