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Legs Diamond (12/26/1988 - 02/19/1989)


 

New York Daily News: "Flawed 'Diamond'"

Normally, I'm told, you begin an autopsy by making an incision in the abdomen so you can remove the guts. In the case of the corpse labeled "Legs Diamond," this is unnecessary because there doesn't seem to be any.

When the musical was announced, the question on everyone's lips was, "Why do a musical about a ruthless gangster with a star known mainly for amiable camp?" The question remains.

The authors have begged it by concentrating on Diamond's career as a nightclub performer. This is a man whose achievements in show business have been forgotten, but whose career as a murderer remains illustrious.

The show seems like an endless succession of nightclub members, which might be tolderable if the were outrageous or even clever. The closest they come is one called "I Was Made For Champagne," in which two of the girls do their kicks in huge champagne glasses.

The generally cheery, energetic choreography is by Alan Johnson, who staged the "Springtime for Hitler" number in "The Producers." He has been given nothing of comparable humor to work with here.

One number begins with the patrons of the Hotsy Totsy Club being given hammers to knock on the tables to show appreciation. It progresses to a song about "Knockers," full of adolescent double entendres, and is sung by a chorus wearing huge kewpie doll heads. You can only take so much cuteness before it grows tiresome.

Allen's score seldom goes beyond the pleasant, though it has been attractively orchestrated and there are several engaging choral numbers. One would-be torch song called "The Music Went Out of My Life" is sung by Julie Wilson, who plays an aging nightclub star with great dignity. Her loyalty rescues Legs several times. To be saved by an old chanteuse doesn't enhance a gangster's reputation in my book.

Allen has written himself one likeable song, "All I Wanted Was the Dream," which he begins at the piano. Seeing him there hits home what is wrong with the show. His talent is supperclub size-likeable, soft, intimate. Neither as a songwriter nor as a performer can he fill a Broadway stage.

As a gangster, even a singing and dancing gangster, he is hopeless. (When he sings a song with Randall Edwards about his plan to challenge Arnold Rothstein, his rival, we don't feel we're watching the beginning of a career in crime; it's more like Mickey and Judy deciding to put on a show in a barn.)

Edwards, yet another character who is a nightclub singer, has a piercing voice like Lina Lamont in "Singin' in the Rain," which makes her a running gag, not a character. Joe Silver, who plays Rothstein, has the right gravelly voice, but he looks uncannily like Mr. Magoo. So much for menace.

The book, by Harvey Fierstein and Charles Suppon, presents Legs' life as a series of movie cliches. It settles for campy jokes, easy laughs and, inwards, a sexual suggestiveness that can only be called pathetic.

Director Robert Allan Ackerman can't give an amateurish script his customary polish or style.

Willa Kim's costumes are splashy. David Mitchell, whose sets made Depression-era New York irresistable in "Annie," has gone for the grittiness of New York in the '20s. If the show were realistic, this might help, but, except for a glitzy opening tableau, the visuals only add to the charmlessness.

"Legs" isn't even bad enough to laugh at. It's just dull. It needed an imagination as wild and elegant as its subject's, not as tame as its star's.


New York Daily News
12/27/1988

New York Post: "Tarnished 'Diamond'"

When the best moments of a show are provided by the curtain calls, it is a safe bet at least to suspect that the show itself is in trouble. And Peter Allen's "Legs Diamond," which opened last night at the Mark Hellinger Theater, is in the kind of trouble that might here be characterized as fractured paste.

At least the backers can see where there money went. It's lavish. But lavish is as lavish does - and it doesn't do too much here.

The story of "Legs Diamond" is well known - at least the backstage story is. Few shows have had the fever charts of their troubled gestation so pored over or so mercilessly examined in the public prints.

And few shows could have had a sourer advance word of mouth. Could it possibly be as bad as it seemed; indeed as people said? The good news is that it isn't. The bad news is that it isn't all that better either.

Mind you, there is nothing wrong with it that a completely new book, new lyrics, new score and new concept could not fix overnight. And the people unquestionably did their best.

The story is of a nice guy - Legs Diamond - who hankers to get into show business, but is diverted to the state pen for five years when he is framed for bootlegging.

Once freed he finds the outside world hostile to his talents, and the hooodlum-honcho who fixed his pass to the Big House, a nasty called Arnold Rothstein, now runs the gin mills of New York and will not let Legs get up and start running.

At last Legs catches on. He and a girlfriend (a "protegee" of the evil Rothstein) decide that only crime can pay, but Legs, being a moral sort of a guy, reckons only to "steal from thieves," so that, as he so cutely puts it, "we will just be robbin' hoods."

The story does not so much progress as meander. And studded throughout its meanderings are a few song-and-dance number - many, if not most, set either in the Hotsy Totsy Club or the Tropicabana, two faintly interchangeable nite-spots.

It is curious with so much activity how little really happens. Of course there are several shootings, betrayals, even a kind of revival meeting, but there is no clear development  of narrative or character - nothing like hte kind of framework that held that other Broadway gangland musical, "Guys and Dolls," so cohesively together.

I have always admired Peter Allen as a terrific cabaret performer. I have loved his energy, deftness, nimbleness, expertise and general panache. Here I found myself wondering where it had all gone.

Most of the time he seems drained by the sheer Broadway effort - a somewhat plump shadow of his former self, although, I freely admit, at times his huge basic personality of a twinkling koala bear bursts out like unexpected sunshine.

But it is never enough. Perhaps the role could have done with a Fred Astaire or Jack Buchanan - some all-singing, all-dancing charmer who could light up the dull corners of any musical.

Even then it would be faced with that dullness round every corner. Allen has written some really charming and bouncy cabaret songs in the past- but not here.

Yes, there is a decent honky-tonky overture, orchestrated by Michael Starobin, but from then on the show is almost all downhill until those cutting-loose curtain calls which have just the breezy insouciance lacking everywhere else.

Most of the music appears to take unmemorability to the point of clinical amnesia, and you go out humming a headache.

The lyrics have little originality or fancy, while the book by Harvery Fierstein and Charles Suppon seems to take the sobriquet "Legs" so literally that the show's narrative becomes a pedestrian walkway.

There are not all bad. Robert Allan Ackerman's staging has its moments - including some shadow screen stuff devised by Ted Shapiro which is most effective - and the choreography by Alan Johnson shows a certain Bob Fosse raciness.

Then there are David Mitchell's apt and resourceful scenery, Willa Kim's imaginatively stylish costumes, Jules Fisher's state-of-the-Broadway-art lighting.

There are also a number of pretty good compensatory performances, including Julie Wilson putting over a torch-song, the best number in the show, with the sultry heat of a flamethrower, Randall Edwards as the cutest of ingenues, and the husky-voiced Joe Silver brutally authoritative as the gang boss.

But really, it is all so much like one of those battery-tired, feebly mechanical toys the day after Christmas. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. And it doesn't even help to throw it against the wall.

Just keep in the overture and the curtain calls, and fill in the rest! How about doing a musical called "Springtime for Capone"?


New York Post
12/27/1988

New York Times: "'Legs' Opens After 9-Week Preview"

''Legs Diamond,'' the Peter Allen floor show that held its official opening at the Mark Hellinger last night, wistfully bills itself as ''a big new Broadway musical.'' That it's not, since it isn't particularly big or new or musical. But was it too much to hope for the next best thing - a big new Broadway bomb along the demented lines of ''Kelly'' or ''Dude'' or ''Carrie''?

Apparently so. After nine weeks of previews subsidized by roughly 90,000 customers paying full price, the creators of ''Legs Diamond'' could not even come up with the riotous larger-than-life fiasco of which theatrical legends are made. Far from being a source of ridiculous slap-happiness, ''Legs Diamond'' is a sobering interlude of minimum-security imprisonment that may inspire you to pull out a pen and attend to long-neglected tasks, like finishing last Sunday's crossword puzzle or balancing a checkbook. Time was when musicals playing the Hellinger were found wanting when compared with that theater's most illustrious occupant, ''My Fair Lady.'' Such is Broadway's low estate today that ''Legs Diamond'' is lackluster even when measured on the Richter scale of disaster against such recent Hellinger tenants as ''Platinum,'' ''Merlin,'' ''A Doll's Life,'' ''Rags'' and ''Grind.''

As written by Mr. Allen (music and lyrics) and Charles Suppon and Harvey Fierstein (book), ''Legs Diamond'' is a show about nothing except its star's ambition to preside over a musical that either gullible or heavily sedated theater parties might by some miracle mistake for ''Guys and Dolls'' or ''Pal Joey.'' Although nominally cast as the Prohibition gangster of his show's title, Mr. Allen isn't playing any character (unless it's the Joel Grey emcee from ''Cabaret,'' without the makeup). Indeed, this Legs doesn't go so far as to carry a gun, with the consequence that the evening's most persistent source of drama is Mr. Allen's unceasing struggle to figure out what to do with his hands.

The script, so confusing I lost its thread before the end of the first number, is a series of song cues that never crystallizes into a story. Sometimes Legs wants to be a song-and-dance man with his name in lights, so he hangs out in speak-easy nightclubs that resemble the Hot Box or Chez Joey or Kit Kat Klub of Broadway musicals past. Sometimes he wants to commit an apparently victimless crime, so he trades comic insults with dems-and-dose guys in pin stripes. Sometimes he performs an utterly impersonal duet with one of two leading ladies - Julie Wilson and Randall Edwards, in indiscriminate alternation - and I guess that means Legs pines for romance. The unhelpful dialogue, which rarely falls trippingly from the company's highly amplified tongues, sounds as if it had been translated from foreign-language comic books. A typical punchline? ''My girls don't come cheap, and neither do sequins.'' (Actually, these sequins look as if they do.) If there's any mystery to ''Legs Diamond,'' it is the one attending Mr. Allen, not the gangster he purports to play. Here is a performer with a single expression - a pop-eyed, I-dare-you-not-to-love-me grin - and a harsh singing voice as taut as his face. He delivers jokes as if he were a ''Hollywood Squares'' second banana struggling with his cue cards, and his dancing amounts to a few Rockette-style high kicks and a lot of wiggling at the joints. As for Mr. Allen's songs, they are so derivative they make Andrew Lloyd Webber's scores sound idiosyncratic. One must charitably assume that the lyrics, with their tireless intimations of brighter tomorrows and ships coming in and roads not taken, are put-ons. Yet none of these drawbacks have hindered Mr. Allen's efforts to mount ''Legs Diamond.'' He may not have talent, but who needs talent these days if blessed with a genius for self-promotion?

It can't be coincidence that nothing in ''Legs Diamond'' threatens to upstage its star, even given the minimal pizazz such upstaging would require. David Mitchell's sets, with their small-scale nightclubs and conventional Manhattan backdrops, may be lavish by the standards of ''Romance Romance'' but not when compared with most other Broadway musicals or the designer's work for ''La Cage aux Folles.'' Alan Johnson's Copacabana-style choreography, seemingly fashioned to help camouflage Mr. Allen's hoofing inadequacies, is schlock of the sort Mr. Johnson parodied when staging Mel Brooks's ''Springtime for Hitler'' in the film ''The Producers.'' Willa Kim's costumes don't offer much in the way of diamonds, though they eventually reveal a fatal attraction for gold lame.

The director is Robert Allan Ackerman, whose sensitive past work includes important plays by David Henry Hwang and Thomas Babe. In ''Legs Diamond,'' the mugging of his performers proves more lethal than any of the criminal acts their characters commit. One feels most sympathy for the rigidly composed Miss Wilson, a revered chanteuse who is so frequently referred to as an ''older woman'' and so insistently dragged on for mock-Judy Garland solos that she threatens to turn camp into a form of institutionalized religion. ''I'm getting too old for this,'' she says in one uncommonly honest aside, expressing a sentiment that eventually overtakes even those theatergoers who were still young when the curtain on ''Legs Diamond'' went up.


New York Times
12/27/1988

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