By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
If only college life were ever as naive and boisterous as it was in the 1939 musical Too Many Girls, now getting a sis-boom-beautiful revival at Irving's Lyric Stage. Out at New Mexico's fictional Pottawotamie U, the football team has started winning, thanks to four Ivy League transfers who know what they're doing on the gridiron and also happen to dance with Broadway flair. Cheering them on is a passel of pretty girls, each wearing a yellow beanie representing virginity.
By the end of the second act of this silly, charming piece of musical-comedy cotton candy, the boys have won the big game against the "Texas Gentiles" and are ready to score some extra points with the coeds. Watch them toss those beanies into the air. Everybody sing!
Too Many Girls, with its popcorn score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and a cornball book by George Marion Jr., arrived on Broadway, and then a year later hit the movie screen, at the end of an era. Shows like Oklahoma! and Carousel, with darker plots and more sophisticated music, were on the horizon.
For the past seven decades, Too Many Girls has been known primarily as the show that introduced Lucille Ball to Desi Arnaz. She played the female lead, giddy heiress Consuelo Casey, in the movie. Desi played conga drum-beating Argentinian football star Manuelito Lynch on Broadway at age 19 and again in the film, where he met and fell in love with Lucy and set in motion the future of television.
The musical that introduced them, however, has been nearly forgotten. The old-fashioned frippery yielded only one popular tune — "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" — and never again graced the Great White Way.
Directed and choreographed at Lyric Stage by Ann Nieman, the current production benefits from this company's dedication to reviving American musicals with top talent, plus original arrangements played by a full orchestra (36 musicians for this one, conducted by Jay Dias). There really is nothing like the bone-buzzing thrill of a soaring overture, like the eight-minute one for Too Many Girls, played in a pit in front of the stage, something you don't get in Broadway theaters anymore.
Lyric's cast couldn't be cuter. As Manuelito, John Campione borrows Desi's swoony accent and hairstyle. Good-looking, bright-voiced New York actor Drew Aber plays the romantic lead, Clint Kelley, hired by an East Coast millionaire (James Williams) to bodyguard wild daughter Consuelo (pert Mary McElree) at the New Mexico college.
Looking and screlting like a young Carol Burnett, Daron Cockerell gets her teeth into "Cause We've Got Cake," a huge production number about cake. (Hey, you have to love a musical that devotes one whole song to cake.) And Cockerell also does a show-stopping solo with the bitterly funny "Give It Back to the Indians," Rodgers and Hart's satirical answer to their own 1929 love song to the Big Apple, "I'll Take Manhattan."
Listen closely to the lyrics in Too Many Girls and you'll catch references to 1939 pop culture figures such as "café society" columnist and fashion dandy Lucius Beebe and bandleader Eddie Duchin, whose name lyricist Lorenz Hart rhymes with "Elsa Maxwell's two chins." For those of us who love seeing these old shows brought back to life, even for two weekends in Irving, hearing stuff like that is icing on the big, sweet Rodgers and Hart cake.