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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

GIVE A GIRL A BREAK (1953)

When the temperamental star of a new B’way Revue quits, the show’s director/star has to find a replacement in record time. The search gets narrowed down to three talented girls, but who will get the big break? Not the freshest of storylines for this modest-to-a-fault chamber musical, but it should be enough to hang a backstager on. There’s talent a’plenty: Stanley Donen to helm; Gower Champion & Bob Fosse as co-stars & choreographers; Debbie Reynolds, Marge Champion & Helen Wood as the wannabees; and songs from Burton Lane & Ira Gershwin . . . yet there's hardly a memorable thing in here. The Gods were smiling just around the corner. on a different M-G-M soundstage where Vincente Minnelli was shooting THE BAND WAGON. (Don’t feel too bad, the next year Donen had all the mojo w/ 7 BRIDES FOR 7 BROTHERS while Minnelli tanked on BRIGADOON.) This one’s still worth a look for the young & endearingly sunny Mr. Fosse; for the speed & shiny perfection of Marge & Gower in peak form; and for some tasty staging tricks from Donen and his beloved camera crane. But the whole package comes off like one of those instantly forgettable 1950s tv spectaculars.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Portly Kurt Kasznar gets stuffed into ballet tights to partner Ms. Wood (a bit player whose career ended when she got this break), but he’s mainly on board to play a wisecracking Oscar Levant role. In THE BAND WAGON, Levant makes like B’way lyricist Adolph Green; here, Kasznar is ‘doing’ Julie Styne, the great Hollywood & B’way composer who was famous for always agreeing with whatever was said last.

STotD2: These star-is-born scenarios sound corny, but they do happen. On Gower Champion’s last B’way hit (a stage version of 42nd Street), not only did he replace the show’s star at the last minute, he actually died on opening night! The cast played on, unaware of his death! And producer David Merrick announced it to one & all, right on stage during the curtain call. What a show that would make!

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