On a Slow Boat to China: Songs by Frank Loesser | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

On a Slow Boat to China: Songs by Frank Loesser 

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On a Slow Boat to China: Songs By Frank Loesser, National Jewish Theater. Frank Loesser joins Kurt Weill, Irving Berlin, and Richard Rodgers as Jewish-American composers who have inspired rousing National Jewish Theater revues in which obscure curiosities share the stage with beloved showstoppers. Devised, directed, and choreographed by Jim Corti and warmly arranged by Kingsley Davis, these numbers range widely among the 500 songs Loesser penned.

Ballads that seek love ("Standing on the Corner") give way to others that lament or celebrate love ("If I Were a Bell"). A World War II section recalls "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition," and a novelty portion revives the boogie-woogie "Rumble, Rumble, Rumble," the Florida salute "Tallahassee," and an all-male Carmen Miranda spoof, "Sing a Tropical Song." Corti's sassy 1940s dance steps for the eager-to-please sextet keep the songs swirling. But some choices perplex, like the first-act finale, a boot-stomping "I've Got Spurs That Jingle, Jangle, Jingle." The number, for which Loesser wrote only the silly lyrics, hardly sums him up. Indeed, most of the 15 numbers presented for which Loesser did not supply the melodies just aren't solid enough to justify the exclusion of stronger songs from Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, Where's Charley? and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Happily, Corti's terrific troupe treat even lesser Loesser with love. If Slow Boat lacks the showbiz savvy of NJT's Puttin' on the Ritz and Falling in Love With Love, at least it's got--to drop a final Loesser lyric--"Heart and Soul."

--Lawrence Bommer

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