Review: ‘High Button Shoes’ at Encores Great American Musicals at City Center

The cast of "High Button Shoes"

By Jonathan Spira on 12 May 2019
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More often than not, musicals of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s are being updated and reflect a more contemporary outlook on life. Be it when Billy Bigelow hits Julie Jordan, Henry Higgins molds Eliza Doolittle in his image, or Fred tames Lilli, the musicals “Carousel,” “My Fair Lady,” and “Kiss Me, Kate” represent what is considered by many an outdated point of view on male-female relations and adjustments were made.

Enter “High Button Shoes,” a lighthearted and joyous American 1947 musical by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn with a book by George Abbott and Stephen Longstreet as well as choreography by Jerome Robbins. The story is based on Longstreet’s semi-autobiographical 1946 novel, The Sisters Liked Them Handsome, and finishes off this season’s Encores rarely-heard American musicals in concert series.

Rest assured, dear reader, that no such adjustments to 2019 sensibilities have been made.

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Set in 1913, the musical looks at the entanglements and ensuing high jinks of the Longstreet family of New Brunswick with a con man, Harrison Floy, who returns back to his hometown with his shill, Mr. Pontdue.

Hilarity ensues.

Michael Urie, most recently of “Torch Song” fame, is the conman with the toothy smile and round glasses, applying a dexterity to the role that makes him almost capable of cartoon-character like feats. Phil Silvers – who would go on to play the aptly-named conman Master Sergeant Ernst G. Bilko in the Emmy Award-winning television show “You’ll Never Get Rich” – originated the role of Floy.

The not so clever but ever-charming Pontdue (he has no first name) is played by Kevin Chamberlin, whose timing is impeccable, while the elegant matriarch of the Longstreet family, Sara Longstreet, is Betsy Wolf in the role originated by Nanette Fabray.

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