I Married an Angel, now revived as an Encores! production at New York City Center, has that ebullient, slightly fairy tale charm that characterizes Depression-era musicals. It is, just as the title says, the story of a man who marries an angel. Disappointed in love Count Willy Palaffi (Mark Evans) resists his sister Peggy’s (Nikki M. James) efforts to find him a wife. She has set him up to meet Anna Murphy (Hayley Podschun), purportedly innocent daughter of a fellow ‘actress’ from Peggy’s former life upon the wicked stage. However, Willy has vowed he won’t marry until he finds a woman who is like an angel. Well be careful what you wish for. A winged creature in the form of Sara Mearns alights in his study one night and he is smitten instantly. Love at first sight has consequences, as he soon discovers.
The plot –Willy’s bank is about to fail, he needs a loan, how will he resolve the issue, it’s Budapest – is silly, but verisimilitude is not the point. Music and dance are. And lots of it. The Rodgers and Hart score moves nicely, with beautiful songs like “Spring is Here” and “I’ll Tell the Man in the Street”. It also includes two extensive ballets, choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, which showcase Mearns’ dancing. There’s a reason she is one of the pre-eminent ballerinas of the world. Graceful, light on her feet and effortlessly athletic, she would stand out on a stage full of Pavlovas. It’s hard to compete with that, but the ensemble of dancers do very well. Of course, what show would be complete without a tap number? Silly question – none! Tap always lifts your spirits, and the show-stopper in I Married an Angel is no exception.
The curtain rises to reveal the excellent orchestra, playing a real Overture (!) with lush sound. Around them, Set Designer Allen Mayer has draped elegant, floor-to-ceiling chiffon curtains over every inch of wall. Three crystal chandeliers twinkle above -- it’s like a dream from an MGM musical, and the perfect foil for the small playing space. As Jeff Croiter’s sumptuous, colorful lighting plays across the curtains, you know you are not in Kansas anymore. Allejo Vieti’s costumes hit the target from the word go. Sparkly ballgowns (including a red satin number to die for), day clothes, shoes, hats – all perfectly in period.
The performances vary. Mark Evans is disappointing as the male romantic lead. His voice is pleasant, but he needs more nuance. Nikki M. James as Countess Peggy is, unfortunately, very miscast. She lacks the sophistication to play the over-the-top, sardonic Countess and fell afoul of the music when it required moving between her vocal registers. By contrast, when Hayley Podschun appears, everyone else fades from view. She really livens up the joint. She’s a fabulous singer; she’s funny; she dances; she gives as good as she gets. Tom Robbins as the banker Harry Mischka Szigetti operates at the same level. He knows his way around a stage. Some of the smaller roles are quite funny, including befuddled General Lukash (Max Baker).
However, it is Sara Mearns, as the show’s angelic star, who has to carry the show, which she does admirably. Some line readings drop, but she lands most of her jokes. She has clearly been well directed. She handles her dialogue with a light touch and is downright funny as the kooky angel who cannot but speak truth. “Truth is beauty and beauty is truth!” Beautiful indeed.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)