Smashing Hilty Glitters in ‘Gents Prefer Blondes’: Review

Megan Hilty and Simon Jones in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," at New York City Center. Photographer: Joan Marcus/Helene Davis Public Relations via Bloomberg

The spirited crowd at City Center on Wednesday night couldn’t have been better primed when Megan Hilty took the stage to sing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

She was poured into a bust-to-mid-thigh sheath of Champagne sequins that flared at the hem. Her hair was sunshine blonde and a wide crimson smile promised all kinds of fun.

Hilty, as you surely know, plays a Broadway triple-threat in NBC’s “Smash.” It’s about two actresses competing to play Marilyn Monroe in a new musical. One of them is Hilty.

And now here she is as Roaring Twenties gold digger non-pareil Lorelei Lee, a role famously played by MM in the 1953 Howard Hawks movie.

An exuberant belter who bears no physical resemblance to either Monroe or the original stage Lorelei, Carol Channing, Hilty leads what is, hands down and legs up, the best musical revival of the season.

Unfortunately, the season has just ended and this isn’t a Broadway revival. It’s the closing production of City Center’s Encores! concert series, and you have only three days left to see it.

Buttons, Zippers

Engaged to a button magnate (Clarke Thorell), Lorelei sets sail with her best friend Dorothy (Rachel York) on the Ile de France, where they encounter the zipper king (Stephen R. Buntrock), the tipsy Mrs. Spofford (Deborah Rush) and her son Henry (Aaron Lazar.)

In Paris, they cavort at the Ritz, in the Bois du Bologne and at a nightclub before all the squabbles are settled and the happy company reconvenes at the Central Park Casino.

The captains of this improbably effervescent ship are director John Rando and choreographer Randy Skinner, both in top form.

For all the times I’ve complained about choreography that looks like calisthenics, I’m pleased to report that, among the astonishing catalogue of dances Skinner has devised for the ensemble is one that’s actually supposed to look like exercise.

The ship just happens to be stocked bow to stern with American athletes on their way to the 1924 Olympic Games. They leap and fly and throw their javelins with grace and humor, flaunting plenty of beefcake all the while.

There’s so much great dancing in the show (much of it led by a tap wizardress named Megan Sikora) it almost overshadows a cherishable score by Jule Styne and Leo Robin. In addition to “Diamonds,” it includes “Bye, Bye Baby,” “It’s Delightful Down in Chile” and “I Love What I’m Doing (When I’m Doing It For Love)” and the title song.

“Gents” may be a dopey Golden Age musical whose time has long passed, but what a happy fix it provides.

Through May 13 at 131 W. 55th St. Information: 1-212-581-1212; Rating: ***1/2

What the Stars Mean:
****        Do Not Miss
***         Excellent
**          Good
*           So-So
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Today’s Muse highlights include movies and music.

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