"The Merry Widow," in modern dress, waltzed into Boston Monday night and will be receiving guests at the Shubert Theatre for the next two weeks. This up-to-date version of Franz Lehar's evocation of Alt Wien is just about as Viennese as Mom's apple pie, but it is still a good show.
In fact, it has nearly everything an operetta should have. It has dancing--ballroom, ballet, and can-can, all done with devastating elan. In particular, the team of Gilrone and Star shone with their smooth pas de deux in the Merry Widow Waltz.
It has comedy. The humor is of three kinds: clean ("Moravia's so poor that the R.F.C. won't even give it a loan"); dirty (as in the low routines by Coley Worth and Nina Olivette); and some jokes that are neither clean nor dirty, but just dusty with age. The funniest part of the whole show, I thought, was "The Women," a song-and-dance routine in Act Two that satirizes everything from Sadler's Wells to the Old Howard.
It has music. Lehar was no Johann Strauss, but his tunes are danceable and whistleable all the same. The twenty-piece orchestra sounded surprising good, and John McManus deserves credit for his good-humored conducting.
It has spectacle. Beautiful sets, beautiful costumes, and beautiful women have seldom been combined with such mutual advantage.
But despite all these ornaments, I was still dissatisfied, and most of the people around me were, too. The fault, with apologies to Shakespeare, was not in ourselves but in the stars. Neither of the principal performers lived up to the publicity they had received. Ann Andre, the Widow, was sufficiently voluptuous, but she mouthed most of her delicious lines to such an extent that I understood very little of what she said. This might be forgiven, if she had an exceptionally fine voice, but she doesn't. It is much too small, and she has trouble hitting her high notes.
Marcel Lebon, as Prince Danilo, was even worse. When I heard that he had just come over from France, I was looking forward to a composite of Charles Boyer and Jean Sablon. And that's just what I got--he sings like Boyer and has the dramatic ability of Sablon. I must admit he is a good looking actor, and he added a lot to the show as long as he kept his mouth shut.
If you decide to see this (and you really should because of the delightful shenanigans of the minor players), take my advice and go home after the second act. Act Three is terrible. The "action" takes place in Maxim's ritzy restaurant and attempts to give the weary audience (the show lasts until 11:30) a picture of Parisian night-life. The plot stands still while Monsieur Lebon, in his own inimitable fashion, emasculates four songs. Then there are a couple of dance sequences, a comedy skit, and at long last the thing is over. If Lehar were alive and saw this act, he would wish he were dead.