Off-Broadway Review: ‘Do Re Mi’ at Musicals Tonight!

There have been calls over the years by its fans, and a few aborted attempts, to create a stage musical of The Honeymooners. Devotees of the seminal ’50s sitcom may be unaware that there already is one. That’s Do Re Mi, a 1960 semi-hit with sterling credentials on book (Garson Kanin), music (Jule Styne, just coming off Gypsy), and lyrics (Betty Comden and Adolph Green). Of course, its central couple isn’t named Ralph and Alice Kramden, but even that’s pretty close: It’s Hubie Cram (here Patrick John Moran) and his wife Kay (Laura Daniel), virtually identical to the bus driver and his wife. They live, middle-aged and anonymous, in an outer borough, and he, though lacking a career, is eager to score the big score, the one shortcut scheme that will bolt him to the top. She’s more practical, wisecracking and tired of his conniving and having to talk sense to him, but she loves him. Even the song titles sound like they could be coming out of the Kramdens’ mouths: “Waiting, Waiting.” “Take a Job.” “Ambition.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a winner.

Do Re Mi has never been a favorite title of mine, but its exuberant, lively rendering at Mel Miller’s Musicals Tonight! helps explain why so many musical theater fans cherish it. It’s a solid, satirical mid-century second-drawer title, nimbly spoofing the then-current jukebox payola scandals and offering sterling chances to the Crams, originally Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker. As Hubie cooks up a plan to buy and distribute jukeboxes, then supply them with his own record label, featuring his vocal discovery Tilda Mullen (Beth DeMichele), enter a motley crew of Hubie’s gangster chums from long ago, donning swell Mad Men hats and talking in Kanin’s merry Runyonese: “You do what you, and I do what I!” They’re good company, and so is John Henry Wheeler (Tyler Milliron), the competing music executive who has the misfortune to fall in love at first sight with Tilda, to the gang’s threatening dismay. He does eventually get the girl, and also the ballads, including the one standard, “Make Someone Happy.” Milliron’s baritenor is nearly the equal of that of the original, John Reardon, and his and DeMichele’s sweet earnestness play well off the bizarre machinations of Hubie and Kay. DeMichele also scores—not so much with “Cry Like the Wind,” Styne, Comden, and Green’s awkward attempt at traditional folk, but certainly with “What’s New at the Zoo?”, their hilarious spoof of ’50s pop awfulness.Advertisement

All right. The book, which appears to have been snipped some, is not top-tier: Kanin makes his points quickly and haphazardly and ends every scene with a “button,” a would-be-snappy vocal or dialogue or visual punchline, some of which are more successful than others. The score has its clunkers, most notably “Who Is Mister Big?,” an overlong scene-song of Hubie finally attaining the notoriety he has so long sought. But if you have a capable Hubie and Kay, you’re home free. Moran and Daniel, average-looking people you’d never notice on the street, inhabit this conniving but endearing pair so ably that one doubts even the great Silvers and Walker, for whom these parts were written, could have done much better. He’s wild and opportunist in the best Kramden-Sergeant Bilko way, he sings solidly, and he even nails his unexpectedly sober 11 o’clock number, a reflective sort of “Hubie’s Turn” called “All of My Life.” (Silvers, on the cast album, overdoes it.) Daniel, expertly mixing the affection and skepticism in Kay, also has a huge Act Two number, “Adventure.” She belts it out of the park. The supporting cast is terrific, too, with especially bracing work from the gang of Mark Montague, Michael Scott, Daniel Marcus, and that Musicals Tonight! mainstay, Roger Rifkin.

Musicals Tonight! has been experimenting of late with new directors and choreographers, and for me it’s sent their stock up several points. Donald Brenner keeps the pace brisk, the action clear, and the dances evocative. (One cavil: Kay keeps mentioning wanting to dance with Hubie. So why, in the finale, doesn’t she?) This Do Re Mi is bare-bones and imperfect. But if you want a funny, tuneful example of mid-century masters having a great, inconsequential time? Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a winner.

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.