News Column

Music, actors are successes in 'Fingers & Toes'; A little tightening would guarantee a commercial hit.

November 12, 2013


More than a five-cent cigar or affordable health care, what Americareally needs is a good three-character musical with lots of tapdance.

That is precisely what the Plaza Theatre is currently serving up, aclever, new compact show called "Fingers & Toes," an off- Broadwaywannabe nostalgically set in 1939 Manhattan. It starts ratherslowly and the finale never quite achieves the desired emotionaluplift, but in between there is a lot to like, delivered by a verywinning trio of performers.

In that slow opening sequence, we learn that all three charactersare experiencing heartbreaks. The wife of Tristan "Fingers" St.Claire (Aaron Berk), a nimble piano player and occasional composer,has walked out on him and will soon sue for divorce. Dustin "Toes"McGrath (Rick Faugno), an accomplished though unemployed hoofer,has just lost a major role to some new guy named Gene Kelly. AndMolly Molloy (Nili Bassman), a right off the farm performer, hasbeen dumped -- on the phone, no less -- by her theatrical producerboy friend.

Longtime pals Fingers and Toes decide to dig themselves out of thedoldrums by writing a musical for themselves. But they need a galfor the show and, after a series of dismal auditions, Molly enterstheir lives. Fingers recognizes how talented she is, but Toes takesthe sort of instant dislike to her that -- in musicals at least --usually signals romance ahead.

The faux-vintage score, as well as the script studded with periodlingo, is the handiwork of a newcomer from Canada named LoganMedland. Well schooled in the traditions of musical comedy, he bothcelebrates them and kids them. Among his better running gags,Fingers and Toes keep rejecting dubious ideas for musicals that weknow became smash hits.

Of the musical numbers, standouts include a catchy ditty, "AnyoneCan Write a Song," an upbeat duet for Toes and Molly ("You and Me")and a comic specialty turn, "You Might as Well Laugh," that bringsto mind "Singin' in the Rain's" "Make 'Em Laugh." Some of theothers seem tossed off without sufficient development, but all aremusically appealing on first hearing.

Someone should research why theatergoers are such suckers for therhythmic sound of metal taps, but there is no denying thatchoreographer David Wanstreet builds that sound into several smart,flashy production numbers. For instance, shortly beforeintermission there is a showstopper called "Noctural Commission," ajazzy take on Chopin that builds into a furious tap challenge.

Faugno is a very accomplished dancer in a variety of styles, whoalso has a pleasant singing voice. With several Broadway shows onhis resume already, he typifies the depth of talent waiting to bediscovered in New York. Bassman is almost on his level as a dancer,and the two create nice sparks together, from their tap shoes andtheir chemistry. While he has to project a melancholy mood for muchof the evening, Berk has a definite comic flair and more than holdshis own in this equilateral triangle of a show.

Shepherding "Fingers & Toes" for the past year has been directorRobert Moss, former head of New York's esteemed PlaywrightsHorizons. What he has currently is enjoyable, but if he can tightenit up and give the finale more punch, he just might have acommercial winner on tap.



Where: The Plaza Theatre, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan.

When: Through Nov. 24.

Tickets: $45. Call: 561-588-1820.

The verdict: A new, but nostalgic musical celebration of thecreative process of putting on a show, with a tuneful score and atrio of multitalented performers.

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