"Men with Money" by Bill Nelson and Joseph Trefler at Aurora Theatre, March 07, 2019 - April 14, 2019
Since the site is not allowing the posting of reviews in its normal place, the backlog of my reviews will be going to the forum
Title: How to Marry an American Guy on the Town
An opening extolling New York in song and ballet. "On the Town?" Ballet, and Eiffel Tower replicas onstage. "An American in Paris?" A second-act foray into Havana. "Guys and Dolls?" A locker room scene. "Damn Yankees?" People entering through supposedly enclosed spaces. "The Drowsy Chaperone?" No, all these elements are in the "old-fashioned brand new" musical "Men with Money." With a plot extremely reminiscent of a gender-swapped "How to Marry a Millionaire," the show marries the musical styles of the golden age of American musicals with a gay sensibility, and does it in a winning fashion.
Louis (Tom Key look-alike Sean Doherty) convinces his equally-poor roommates, gay Sonny (diminutive Kenny Tran) and heterosexual Max (hirsute Marcello Audino), that they need to borrow money from their landlady (audience favorite Candy McLellan) to dress up and find millionaires to marry. And they do. But is it only money they’re after, or will love play a role in their choices? You know the answer. A happy, love-affirming ending is foreordained.
Aurora’s production presents the musical in bang-up fashion. Ricardo Aponte has filled the show with energetic choreography that is matched by the energy of the performances shaped by director Justin Anderson. Ann-Carol Pence’s musical direction gets splendid vocals out of everyone, as well as doing Matthew Aument’s orchestrations proud. The alternate America of 1952, in which Eleanor Roosevelt is president and gay marriage is thoroughly accepted, comes across largely in the costumes by Elizabeth Rasmusson, although the initial blue-jean fashions of the leading men seem a lot more modern than 1952. The score, though, fits thoroughly in the musical idioms of that time.
The action takes place on a set designed by Julie Ray that features dizzyingly skewed perspectives of buildings in saturated pastel colors, with the floor painted in false perspective to seem to be receding into the distance. Various set pieces are brought on for various scenes, along with Kathy Ellsworth’s period-appropriate props, and it all works very smoothly. Mike Post’s lighting design adds some excitement, particularly in the opening moments and in the illumination of windows and ledges on the crazily-angled buildings framing the stage. The show is a visual feast.
That the show bursts with unbridled energy may be due in part to Mr. Anderson’s direction, but the performers deserve tons of credit. The three male leads drive the action, and never let the momentum lapse. The love interests for the men also turn in fine performances -- golden-voiced Daniel Misniewski and maturely handsome Brian Robinson for Louis; elegant Cecil Washington, Jr. and luminous Adrianna Trachell for Max; and limber-limbed Jimi Kocina for Sonny. The large ensemble fills in any gaps on the stage with cheerful athleticism, led by dance captain Brooke Morrison. The show is a delight.
The musical score is tuneful, with "The Star I Named for You" seeming to come directly from popular songs of the 1930’s. Lyrics aren’t always on a par with the melodies, but they aren’t full of the imperfect rhymes endemic in rock musicals. The one true misstep in the music is starting the score with a melodic phrase that sounds for all the world like the tune to the Caisson Song ("Over hill, over dale, as we hit the dusty trail"). With the plot concerning three post-WWII men and the first musical number extolling New York, it makes the opening much too reminiscent of "On the Town" and "An American in Paris."
Aurora has hosted other new musicals with an eye toward Broadway ("Clyde and Bonnie," "Academy the Musical"). These haven’t gone on to acclaim, but I have to say that I think "Men with Money" in its current form is in better shape than "The Prom" was during its Alliance premiere and is certainly the equal of the Alliance’s recent "Ever After." "Men with Money" is breezy fun that is poised to entertain all those with a taste for musicals of the 1950’s, but with a gay-accepting modern sensibility.