By John Thomas
When the musical was first performed in 1960, the work received theater's triple crown: a Tony Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. It features a score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, best known as the creators of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
The story begins in 1915 and follows the rise of a Greenwich Village attorney to a seat on the U.S. Congress and eventually to the office of mayor. Issues confronted by LaGuardia were similar to those faced by politicians of our day: corruption, abusive labor practices, poverty, and women's rights. LaGuardia is revealed as someone who not only righted wrongs in his beloved city, but also shrewdly used these battles to gain public support for his political ambitions.
John Brandes is well cast in the title role, portraying the brash and often overly confident LaGuardia. His co-leads – Jean Ann Kump as Fiorello's first wife, Thea; and Alison Feuer Pascuzzi as Marie, his secretary – complement Brandes' robust portrayal by being his sensible and devoted counterparts.
Richard Solow, who plays LaGuardia's political ally, Ben Marino, along with Mark Lord and Rob Gold, Fiorello's assistants, offer frequent comic relief as the enterprising politician continuously pushes their loyalty to the limit.
The ensemble works well from top down. Amanda Salerno and Abe Ber play the union worker Dora and her suitor, Floyd the policeman, who witness the future mayor's fight against a local sweatshop. Salerno goes on to offer one of the Act I musical highlights, her rendition of “I Love a Cop.”
Director Maryellen Pierce, also a veteran dance choreographer, has directed more than 15 productions for the FSFCTG. A 30-person chorus completes the cast that offers evidence of her hard work. One of the show's highlights points to the choreography done by Pierce and Farrah Connell. Act II features a synchronized Charleston-style dance featuring women in red and satin period dress.
Musical director Roy Sperrazza guides a five-piece ensemble through a score rife with rapid tempo changes and segues. Though most likely arranged for a large orchestra, the music is borne well by the quintet of winds, piano, guitar, and percussion. At times it comes close to drowning out solo singers, but this is a problem that can arise a musical is performed in a large and resonant hall without the use of ambient microphones above the stage.
“Fiorello!” works best as a marriage of humor, music, and New York history. This is most obvious during “Politics and Poker” (Act I) and “Little Tin Box” (Act II) – both sung by male cast members in the office of Ben Marino.
In “Politics and Poker,” the singers speculate on backing LaGuardia as a congressional candidate. “Little Tin Box” is a hilarious lampoon of a trial over mayoral corruption, in which contractors under Mayor James Walker tell of how they purchased yachts and expensive houses by setting aside spare change.
Remaining performances of “Fiorello!” are Saturdays, Nov. 10 and 17 at 8 p.m., and Sundays, Nov. 11 and 18 at 3 p.m., at the Free Synagogue of Flushing, 41-60 Kissena Blvd. For tickets or more information call 718-428-8681 or 516-354-3017.
Reach Qguide writer John Thomas by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.