If this year’s horrorshow election has left you longing for something fun and inspirational, look no further than Fiorello!–a spirited production now wrapping up its run at the Classic Stage Company’s East Village theater.
This is a full-fledged, feel-good revival of a 1959 award-winning musical (one Tony, one Pulitzer) about the early life of New York’s 99th mayor, Fiorello H. La Guardia. The bantam-sized champion of the underdog, known as “The Little Flower,” is legendary for having defeated the corrupt Tammany Hall machine in the first part of the last century.
And yes, Fiorello! is mayor-approved: Bill de Blasio, who has often sung the praises of the three-term reform Republican, attended a September 23rd performance with first lady Chirlane McCray.
Hizzoner, no little flower at 6 feet 5 inches tall, towered over the diminutive Austin Scott Lombardi– who’s convincing in the title role– when he and McCray went backstage to meet the cast after the two and one-half hour show. (The last performance of “Fiorello!” is Friday, Oct 7 at 7 pm. Tickets range from $59 to $99; the latter were sold out today.)
“One of the first things I did after becoming Mayor was move the desk used by Fiorello La Guardia into my City Hall office,” de Blasio later wrote on his Facebook page. “And tonight, seeing Fiorello! live, I was once again reminded how extraordinary leadership can improve millions of lives.”
De Blasio, clearly gearing up for his reelection campaign next year, added: “As proud progressives and Italian Americans, Mayor La Guardia and I have a few things in common. For La Guardia there was no higher ideal than compassion for our fellow citizens. He was a revolutionary who wanted to bring positive change to the New Yorkers who needed it most. I share his views.”
Fiorello! was a summer hit for the exuberant, young Berkshire Theatre Group before the production moved to the East Village for an off-Broadway run of about five weeks after Labor Day. Directed by Bob Moss, the show is based on the book by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott with a score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (lyricist for Fiddler on the Roof). Evan Zavada directs the small band (two pianos and a violin).
In his Times review, Charles Isherwood noted that the musical’s score was “infectious,” especially with such toe-tapping numbers as “Politics and Poker,” a cynical lyric about backroom deals set to a rollicking waltz; and “The Little Tin Box,” a comical song about wayward city officials padding their paychecks with illicit contributions. He also praised Rebecca Brudner, who plays the leader of a shirtwaist factory strike and later marries La Guardia, for her plaintive rendering of “When Did I Fall in Love?”
Kate Maguire, BTG’s artistic director and CEO, felt that the time was right to revive a musical about New York’s feisty Little Flower. “It’s an election year and Fiorello La Guardia was someone who really was a politician for the people,” she said. “And that’s something a lot of people are aching for.”