Pardon My English was written back in the 1930s, long before the great American musical came into its own as an art form. Back then, musicals tended to be little more than a bunch of songs stitched together by silly plots that usually featured some sort of bumbling foolishness followed by a love-at-last climax. These were the sort of ridiculous shenanigans that were often described as "madcap." Unfortunately, although Pardon My English features a score by the great Ira and George Gershwin, and although David Ives revised the story in 2004, the show is still like most flimsy musicals from that era. The ludicrous, anemic tale, now playing at Main Street Theater, is filled with tissue-thin cartoon characters that make Wile E. Coyote look about as deep as Hamlet.
The story opens in Dresden, Germany, where the authorities have banned the sale of soft drinks. At a speakeasy called Club 21, those desperate enough to risk jail for such contraband as Orange Crush are drinking it up. Running the joint is a slick fellow named Golo (Joel Sandel). He's a ne'er-do-well German whom the soft-drink-hardened girls adore. At his side is Gita (Doris Davis), a leggy Polish blond who knows a thing or two about being bad. She wears trousers and down-to-there vests that reveal more than a little bit of cleavage. They sing a couple of numbers and dance about a bit; then bam, next thing we know, the bar is being infiltrated by a handful of vice-squad bozos who slink about trying to catch the patrons red-handed.
Golo's too smart to get nabbed, but he's mad as all get-out at inept police commissioner Bauer (David La Duca) for trying to raid his bar. So Golo plots to undermine the commissioner and heads over to Bauer's house, where everybody is making merry, including the commissioner's pretty daughter Frieda (Catherine Kahl). Of course, the madcap romping has just begun.
Pardon My English
Main Street Theater, 4617 Montrose, 713-524-6706.
Through January 22. $10-$30.
Golo gets bonked in the head and somehow turns into a different person named Michael Bramleigh. Bramleigh is an English gentleman who can't remember anything at all about the speakeasy. He promptly falls in love with good-girl Frieda, forgetting all about the vixen Gita.
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The rest of the story follows our leading man as he tries to figure out who he is. Every time he gets bonked on the head (which he does often, and always with appropriate sound effects), he forgets his identity. At one point, a team of three shrinks is called in. Freud (Joe Carl White), Jung (Andrew Ruthven) and Adler (Ryan Josef) analyze the protagonist's problem in a few songs, including the utterly predictable "He's Oversexed."
To make matters more ridiculous, the story is filled with lots of eye-rolling one-liners such as "I would challenge you to a duel if you did not have a dual personality" and "Bring in that girl; I want to get to her bottom!" Then there's the dancing tossed in by director Rob Babbitt, which consists mostly of girls twirling here and there or arms and legs swinging in unison.
All this adds up to a whole lot of nothing, and unfortunately Babbitt's cast doesn't contribute much focus to the troubled script. As Gita, Davis is attractive, but she doesn't have the vocal range for the music and often sounds off-key, especially when she reaches for the high notes. Kahl's Frieda is charming with her hair wrapped in girlish braids, but she sings without nuance. Even Sandel, who is usually more than up to a challenging show, seems overwhelmed by the demands of this ridiculous tale. And though he can handle the music, the poor acoustics in the theater rob energy from his singing.
Truthfully, it would take a miracle cast to breathe life into this mindless show. Few who see it will have to ask why Pardon My English has been forgotten along with so many other titles from way back when. The only real question might be this: Why did Main Street bother to bring it back?
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