In the press kit accompanying this show, there is a release detailing the “world premiere” of some small lyric changes made by Sheldon Harnick, the Chicago-born lyricist for this now mostly forgotten 1959 show that was the first collaboration between Harnick and composer Jerry Bock, the team that would go on to write the longest-running Broadway show of the 1960s, “Fiddler on the Roof.” But the lyrics aren’t the problem with “Fiorello!”—in fact, the music and the lyrics are superb, even if unlike “Fiddler,” which chose to emulate Yiddish music, there is no overall musical style here, vacillating as it does between neo-vaudeville and operetta. But the book is another matter. In fact, you’ll learn far more about New York lawyer, congressman and longtime mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia from the excellent program book that TimeLine Theatre has put together for this revival of its 2006 surprise hit than you will from the overblown, overtly chatty and repetitious spoken portions of “Fiorello!” which leave you wanting the all-too-brief music portions never to end by comparison. What sense, for instance, does it make to have the characters detail all of the action of a trial in humorless dialogue details that are so much more cleverly and hysterically repeated in the words and music of the jaunty and playful “Little Tin Box”? But reviving a rarely done musical like this gives much needed context to the works of the same era that have endured (“Gypsy,” “Sound of Music,” et al) which is important so that we don’t end up with what Pierre Boulez calls a “Swiss cheese” view of culture, i.e., full of holes. And this TimeLine revival is so spectacularly done that if you have any affection for musicals and missed this production the first time around, don’t miss it now. At a time when there has been an annoyingly increasing tendency for smaller area theaters to treat the music in musicals as if it were needlessly interrupting the action, both music and drama are served up here with all of the trimmings and with immense tender loving care. (Dennis Polkow)
At TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington, (312)409-8469. This production is now closed.