Dancing Without the Stars: My One and Only, this week's Muny offering, rises or falls on the strength of its male lead

Dancing Without the Stars: My One and Only, this week's Muny offering, rises or falls on the strength of its male lead

My One and Only
Through August 3 at the Muny in Forest Park.
In addition to the free seats, tickets cost $9 to $64.
Call 314-361-1900 or visit www.muny.org.

There are lots of beguiling elements in My One and Only, this week's toe-tapping exercise in escapism at the Muny. Let's not forget the score, a "greatest hits" assemblage of unforgettable songs by George and Ira Gershwin. Then there is a planeload's worth of high-flying supporting performances. Jeff McCarthy romps through a breezy comic turn as the unscrupulous entrepreneur of a 1927 Aquacade. He is (ultimately) partnered with Julyana Soelistyo, who scampers about the stage as a sassy airplane mechanic. The puckish Soelistyo isn't very tall, but every time she smiles her funny face, she adds another two feet to her stature. What a charmer. Ken Page gets to revel in his largeness as an unorthodox reverend.

Then there is Eugene Fleming. As Mr. Magix, a character who makes no sense (but hey, this is not a character-driven piece), he lazes in the barber chair that serves as his aerie and lets everyone else work up a sweat dancing their hearts out. Then, just after 10 p.m., Fleming ambles to his feet and shows us how this kind of musical is supposed to be done. You don't bust your chops selling it to the audience; you make the audience come to you. Which is precisely what happens when Fleming shuffles his way through the laid-back title song. All he has to do is snap his fingers (or have someone snap them for him), and we are putty in his hands. 'Swonderful.

My One and Only is filling the Muny's annual dance-show slot. In recent years that slot has offered such strong entries as Crazy for You, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Singin' in the Rain. If My One and Only doesn't score as well, perhaps it's because of the show's Achilles' heel: The original 1983 Broadway production was codirected and co-choreographed by Tommy Tune — who also costarred. This gossamer "love conquers fame" romance between an ambitious pilot and an unhappy swimmer was a shamelessly bravura, wildly exhilarating star vehicle designed to show Tune off; it had no interest in distributing the wealth the way other dancing shows do.

Which means that a production rises or falls on who is cast in the Tommy Tune role. If you like Dirk Lumbard, you're home free. Apparently lots of people do. His program bio lists many impressive credits. So I concede that I might be in the minority here. But to me, he lacks the role's key need: star presence. How do you define anintangible like star presence? Let's get specific. When, midway through Act One, our hayseed pilot makes a grand entrance in a dapper tuxedo, Lumbard's ill-fitting trousers are woefully wrinkled. No star would appear onstage looking so disheveled. A star would demand that his pants have a crease. What we get at the Muny is a performance defined by wrinkles rather than creases.

The domino effect is that female lead Meredith Patterson, who plays the love interest, isn't given much to work with. She has a stronger onstage rapport with McCarthy, whom she's supposed to despise, than with Lumbard, with whom she's supposed to fall in love. Patterson can be an exciting performer. (Anyone who saw her empathetic title-role portrayal in Gypsy two summers ago knows that.) But despite lots of stage time, lots of charm and lots of legs — true, she only has two, but they extend to the free seats — in a Fred-and-Ginger musical, Ginger can only go so far without a Fred.

Thanks to director Marc Bruni (who also directed the crowd-pleasing Seven Brides at the Muny two summers ago) and to choreographer Niki Harris, who has been with My One and Only from the beginning and knows this show inside out, the polished evening is never less than stylish. The energetic ensemble veritably glides through the compact night. But the transcendent moments associated with other all-dancing Muny shows are too few. This My One and Only only rarely lifts off the ground. 

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