Sutton Foster, The Old Friends and You Never Can Tell

Sutton Foster charms, Foote’s Friends spar, and vintage Shaw delights!

Sutton Foster   (4 ½ stars)
The Old Friends   (3 ½ stars)
You Never Can Tell   (4 stars)

Broadway favorite Sutton Foster has opened The Café Carlyle’s fall season with a slate of standards that puts her considerable charm center-stage.  Working with her long-time musical director and accompanist, Michael Rafter, Foster’s straightforward delivery of songs like “Nice ‘n Easy,” “The Nearness of You” and “Georgia On My Mind” was refreshing.  She’s also unearthed contemporary fare like Francesca Blumenthal’s “The Lies of Handsome Men” and Rupert Holmes’ “The People That You Never Get To Love” that she makes her own with heartfelt readings.  My only quibble about Foster’s show is more than a third of her selections, including Christine Lavin’s delicious “Air Conditioner” and Jeff Blumenkrantz’s devastating “My Heart Was Set on You,” are songs she performed in her debut show at The Carlyle in 2010. They’re fabulous, but Foster needs to stretch with new material.

Director Michael Wilson and Signature have unearthed a Horton Foote drama, The Old Friends, that’s not a great play but proves a tasty showcase for its talented cast.  Written in 1965 as The Dispossessed, Foote’s melodramatic potboiler allows Betty Buckley to act blousy, entitled and enraged as a wealthy widow who fancy’s her brother-in-law, Cotter Smith, who doesn’t reciprocate her boozy affections.  Also on-hand are Veanne Cox, Lois Smith and Hallie Foote all going at each other hammer and tong in their attempt to stave off boredom, old age and death.  What’s not to love?  The Old Friends isn’t top-shelf Foote, but it provides a diverting late-summer evening of cattiness.

In Signature’s old space down the street, The Pearl Theatre Company has revived one of George Bernard Shaw’s trickier comedies, You Never Can Tell, with insouciant style and flair.  Directed with crisp efficiency and some clever, musical touches by Shaw expert, David Staller, You Never Can Tell is a deceptively difficult piece to pull off and The Pearl’s cast manages some tricky roles quite nicely.  Written in 1897, You Never Can Tell revolves around the progressive Clandon family (mother and author Margaret and her three children, Dolly, Philip and Gloria) who arrive back in England after 18 years abroad in Madeira, only to run into their estranged father, Fergus Crampton (who the children have never met), at a seaside resort.  Comedy ensues courtesy of a dentist and a waiter as Shaw tackles love, feminism and familial devotion.  Smart, witty and ahead of its time, You Never Can Tell is a welcome addition to this, or any, theatrical season.

Sutton Foster plays through September 28 at The Café Carlyle (35 E 76th St, TheCarlyle.com).  The Old Friends plays through October 6 at Signature (480 W 42nd St, SignatureTheatre.org).  You Never Can Tell plays through October 13 at the Pearl (555 W 42nd St, PearlTheatre.org).

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