The musical "Fiorello!" is cherished by many theatergoers, some who remember the original Broadway staging, and now the praised Berkshire Theater Group's production has been brought to New York in a largely enjoyable, intimate version. The show, of course, honors the colorful, legendary New York Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, remembered as an energetic, active leader who fought corruption, raced to fires and read the comics over the radio when there was a newspaper strike. He is romanticized in the musical's book by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott, but the music by Jerry Bock and witty lyrics of Sheldon Harnick are chief attractions. The most famous song is probably the hilarious "Little Tin Box," with political cronies making fun of the explanations by politicos being investigated that high living on meager salaries could be explained by frugalities like saving on lunches and putting the money in a little tin box. I am pleased to report that in this production the number is as uproarious as ever.
Directed by Bob Moss, the enthusiastic company puts plenty of spirit into the show, which follows La Guardia from his early days through serving in World War I, his period as a populist Congressman, initial defeat for mayor, and the decision to run for mayor again, this time destined to be elected. We follow his marriage to Thea (Rebecca Brudner), and the yearning of his assistant Marie (Katie Birenboim), who harbors a deep love for him through the years. We also get to meet the men around his campaigns, folks who come to him for help and his enemies, all very well portrayed.
Despite the appealing acting by Austin Scott Lombardi in the title role, it must be faced that he looks nothing like La Guardia, who was a short, stout, gruff little guy. Lombardi is a handsome leading man type, which works nicely in the love scenes. But his turning on the heat as the political La Guardia is at odds with the image. In the original Broadway production Tom Bosley was a close fit.
However, it should be noted that many of today's generation don't know much about La Guardia and thus have no comparison and can better enjoy Lombardi's looks and interpretation and go with the appeal of this staging.
There is some snappy choreography by Michael Callahan, and the small stage is used to advantage with much skill. The book can get heavy at times, true also in the original. However the larger Broadway staging, counterblanced with an eyeful of broader numbers helped overwhelm the weak spots.
But whatever quibbles one may find here, this staging is an admirable, welcomely enjoyable opportunity to see this show that has been so beloved by many. There are numerous numbers that grab you, such as "Politics and Poker," "The Name's La Guardia," "I Love a Cop," "When Did I Fall in Love?" and "The Very Next Man." Instead of an orchestra there is talented Robert Frost on the keyboard, with Alev Goce Erem on violin. Much praise is due scenic designer Brendan F. Doyle for the very clever miniture buildings moved about and suggesting the look of Manhattan.
One more pertinent observation: Labor problems and political corruption depicted in the course of the musical bio don' t go out of style. At the East 13th Street Theater, home of the Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street. Reviewed September 10, 2016.