There’s an enchantingly nostalgic and a much appreciated tongue-and-cheek feel to Bells Are Ringing. This 1950’s musical, which saw a Broadway revival in 2001, is rarely done in comparison to many of its contemporary musicals and after seeing West Valley Light Opera’s production, I’m not sure why it’s not on the short list. With music and book every bit as good as Kiss Me Kate, The Pajama Game and My Fair Lady, this show is sweet and this production is nothing short of freakin’ adorable.
Ella, the play’s central heroine and love interest, is endearing, really just a pleasure to watch, which is certainly saying something as a large percentage of her action is “talking on the phone.” The comic timing throughout the show was priceless and the chemistry between just about all of the characters in the cast felt totally genuine. Actors were very well cast, playing to their strengths be they vocal, comic, sentimental or simply “looking” the part. In some cases triple and quadruple threats. There are a couple of really outstanding character actors in the ensemble which deal with my arch nemesis (double and triple casting) marvelously. There were big laughs and small ones, nuanced performances and over the top ones, and in the end they all blended well into an über charming story.
I have it on authority that this show was indeed cut down quite a bit from the original, and I think it was a wise choice. A 90 minute first act and over an hour second act don’t feel as long as you’d think perhaps, but there may have been an additional 20 minutes that could have been omitted without missing too much of anything. For the most part though it clipped along with far fewer refrains and less repetition than I’ve come to expect from musicals of a certain era.
Seemingly simple and consistent directorial choices keep the scene transitions (which could have been cumbersome) clean and interesting. The choreography was matched to the talent. Dance numbers were crisp and cute, no show-stoppers exactly, but certainly entertaining.
The costumes across the board from hat to shoe were outstanding. Detailed, flattering and fitted, it added a tremendous amount to the production to have costumes that looked like they came from the characters wardrobe and were a part of the character, not an actor dressed up.
The hard-working and substantially sized orchestra was tight for the most part, with a noticeably strong horn section. Aside from two ensemble numbers, where the orchestra/vocal balance got off kilter or the enunciation of the chorus was a bit lax and I couldn’t hear or understand the lyrics, I thought this show was easy on the ears and eyes.
My least favorite obstacle with this particular theatre is an almost imperceptible sloping audience with the additional challenge of no orchestra pit. This means no matter where you are in the center section you’ll have some sight lines to contend with. If you can sit on the side section aisles half way back (Row E-H) you might be swaying back and forth a bit less to catch-all the visual action. Avoid the first 4 row for sure if you can, you’ll find the volume of this orchestra to be too overpowering I think if you’re too close.
I was pleasantly surprised by the genuine adorableness of this show, cast and production. A well-deserved 4 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for a light, simple, fun, and really, just an enjoyable show, with a production value on par with the best community musicals I’ve seen this year. Bells Are Ringing plays through July 21st at the Saratoga Civic Theater.