New York City Center’s Encores! series is all about revivals. But based on director-choreographer Joshua Bergasse’s lackluster production of the 1938 relic “I Married an Angel,” it seems that some classics might be better off remaining in the vault, collecting dust.
“Angel” was one of those whimsical confections by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart built mostly as a platform for George Balanchine’s choreography for his star (and then fiancé) Vera Zorina. Here, Bergasse casts his wife, New York City Ballet star Sara Mearns as Angel, who comes down from the heavens when Budapest banker Willy Palaffi (Mark Evans) declares that he’ll never marry otherwise given how duplicitous all the women around him seem to be.
As you’d expect, she’s a lovely dancer, both en pointe and in more modern movements, but she seems ill-at-ease in the many book scenes, where her angelic guilelessness gets her and Willy into immediate trouble — until she learns that she must be a little duplicitous herself to keep her man. Or at least fib and flirt.
Therein lies the show’s chief defect. Despite playwrights Sarah Saltzberg and Sandy Rustin’s reworking of the original book, there is just no escaping the dated sexism of this material — or Hart’s groan-worthy lyrical jokes and, worse, spoken-word rhyming couplets. Aspects of the book are either creepy or make no sense at all. Willy’s sister (Nikki M. Finke, curiously flat here, both vocally and dramatically) says she had a fling with an investor when she was 15. Creepy. That this happened in Peoria while this Budapest banker’s daughter was an actress in a touring show is never satisfactorily explained.
Even so, it’s lovely to hear Rodgers’ lush if repetitive score played by a 29-piece orchestra — with a harp, of course — under conductor Rob Fisher.