City Center went to great lengths to resurrect “The New Yorkers,” an obscure, loose-limbed 1930 musical comedy with songs by the great Cole Porter celebrating Prohibition-era Manhattan, full of speak-easies, floor shows, gangsters and surprise police raids.
In order to present the show as the second installment of the current Encores! season of rarely-seen musicals in concert, the production team took what little remained from the original production and freely filled in the blanks, including adding a few better-known Cole Porter songs (“You’ve Got That Thing,” “Night and Day”). The only song from the original production that has stood the test of time is “Love for Sale.”
The resulting product — made up mostly of second-tier selections from the Porter catalog, sprightly dance sequences, ancient jokes and a dragging, labored, outright idiotic book — was probably not worth the effort, especially since all of the songs can easily be enjoyed outside the context of the show in revue, a nightclub format or on audio.
At one point, Kevin Chamberlin (in an eager vaudevillian spirit) leads the cast in chanting the word “wood” and creating a barricade of wood. Chamberlin turns to the audience and assures us that this was how the first act really ended in 1930. That may be true, but it doesn’t make the experience any less pointless today.
The production (directed by John Rando) also exhibits a roughness and aimlessness that is rare for anything from the characteristically polished Encores! series.
It’s puzzling that City Center did not instead produce Porter’s last musical “Silk Stockings,” an adaptation of the Soviet woman meets American guy film “Ninotchka,” which would be especially interesting to see today in light of current politics.