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Roberta, the Musical, at Musicals Tonight!

- Backstage with the Playwrights

The New Yorker Hotel
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Musicals Tonight! Presents:
Jerome Kern’s Roberta

Libretto and Lyrics by Otto Harbach
Music by Jerome Kern
Directed and Choreographed by Thomas Sabella Mills
Music Director, Vocal Arranger James Stenborg
(Musicals Tonight! Website)
At The McGinn/Cazale Theatre
(above the Promenade)
Broadway and 76th St.
New York, New York (212) 362-5620
Cast: Heath Calvert, James Donegan, Diane J. Findlay,
Aaron Galligan-Stierle, Emma Lorraine Giffen, Jaclyn Huberman,
Michael Jennings Mahoney, William McCauley, Elena Mindlina,
Jenny Neale, Patti Perkins, Chris Pinella, Marni Raab,
Kristi Roosmaa, Robert Teasdale, Erika Zabelle, James Zanelli

Producer: Mel Miller
Casting Director: Stephen DeAngelis
Lighting/Stage Manager: Yingzhi Zhang
Graphics: James Babbin

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 13, 2008

For obvious reasons, I had always wanted to see this musical, and, by now, have also seen the MGM 1935 Astaire-Rogers film of the same title, both based on the 1933 novel, Gowns by Roberta, by Alice Duer Miller. Musicals Tonight! are performed with books in hand, but, once the music begins, the audience barely notices, as the actors are so effusively involved in the melodrama and as the voices are so appealing. This production of Roberta the musical was a huge success, and the lead actors deserve kudos in advance: Heath Calvert as John, James Donegan as Huck, Diane Findlay as Aunt Minnie (Roberta), Jaclyn Huberman as Madame Scharwenka, Marni Raab as Stephanie, Aaron Galligan-Stierle as Billie, James Zanelli as Ladislaw, Elena Mindlina as Masha, and Jenny Neale as Sophie.

The Book involves a trip to Paris by a 1930’s Swing Band, hired because the Club owner thinks they are “Indians”, but they lose the gig, when the owner realizes the band is from Indiana. John, a friend of Huck, the bandleader, suggests they see Aunt Minnie, aka Roberta, owner of a fashionable Parisian gown and dress shop. John falls in love with Stephanie, the shop assistant, a secret Russian aristocrat, who can sing beautifully (“Lovely to Look At”) and Huck has romance with Scharwenka, who appropriately sings, “I’ll Be Hard to Handle”. Huck and John sing “You’re Devastating”. Sophie is John’s Ex, and she comes across as bland and cold, before she is tossed for John’s increasing interest in Stephanie. When Aunt Minnie dies quickly, John and Stephanie handle the shop, thus, “Something Had to Happen”.

The sets are clever, from the Haverhill College opening, with retro costumes and black stockings, to the Parisian dress shop and simple signs that draw the audience in. I thoroughly enjoyed Madame Scharwenka’s antics, over-the-top camp, and a strong voice to match. Stephanie’s “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” was lyrical and lovely, and Huck and Stephanie’s “Let’s Begin” hummed in my mind for days. Check the Musicals Tonight! Website for current and future productions, and you will hear songs as memorable as Minnie’s version of “Yesterdays”, that I was fortunate to hear tonight.

James Donegan
Photo Courtesy of Mel Miller

Heath Calvert, Marni Raab; James Zannelli; Diane Findlay; Patti Perkins
Photo Courtesy of Mel Miller

Chris Pinnella; Jaclyn Huberman
Photo Courtesy of Mel Miller

Marni Raab
Photo Courtesy of Mel Miller

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at