Seventy years after High Button Shoes ended a 727-performance stroll on Broadway, the show hasn’t been back there. An enervating Encores! revival at New York City Center provides clues as to why, even as it showcases songs filled with fizz and wit by composer Jule Styne, in his Broadway debut, and lyricist Sammy Cahn.
Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Stephen Longstreet, who’s credited with the show’s book, this story of con men and true love in early 20th-century New Jersey is a momentum-murdering hodgepodge. Director John Rando’s staging reminds that shoes, high button or otherwise, and comedy require perfect fits – or there will be stumbles. If not bunions.
As double-dealing Harrison Floy, originated in 1947 by Phil Silvers, a game Michael Urie strains for laughs, while Betsey Wolfe, who plays Sara, a flirty wife with whom he collides, is too 2019 for a story set in 1913. Kevin Chamberlin as Floy’s accomplice; Chester Gregory as Sara’s envious husband; Carla Duren as Sara’s impressionable sister Fran; and Marc Koeck as Oggle, a Rutgers football star with eyes for Fran, ably fill out supporting roles.
Amid creaks, the showtunes “Papa, Won’t You Dance With Me?,” “I Still Get Jealous” and “Can’t You Just See Yourself in Love with Me?” offer ear candy. Jerome Robbins’ antic, Keystone Kops-flavored choreography, staged by Sarah O’Gleby, for “Bathing Beauty Ballet” is still good fun. And sublimely blended choral voices and the Encores! orchestra push their own joy buttons.