The city that loves you back gets a whole lotta lovin' from Roxborough native Michael Ogborn in his new musical, The Three Maries: A Philadelphia Phable. In No Attytude Productions' shamelessly entertaining staging, Ogborn uses a historical event to lovingly spoof our accents, institutions, and traditions. And it's the most phun I've had in a theater all year.
Ogborn set his story during the 1926 U.S. Sesquicentennial (that's a 150-year anniversary to youse), when Queen Marie of Romania (Mary Martello) visited Philadelphia on a goodwill tour.
Little Marie of Kensington (Rachel Brennan) works as a secretary for the newly appointed director of municipal affairs, Mr. Waterhouse (Paul L. Nolan), whose office oversees the royal visit. While 1920's 19th Amendment gave voting rights to and encouraged workplace freedoms for Little Marie, it didn't give her any children, which earns the constant ire of her mother, Big Marie (the hilarious Kathy Deitch), who thinks her 23-year-old daughter would be better off producing grandchildren than a paycheck.
A chance to attend the queen's ball sets in motion Little Marie's transformation in a charming, if winkingly admitted, riff on Cinderella and Pygmalion (by way of My Fair Lady).
Under Peter John Rios' direction, this musical does nothing but entertain. The script teems with sharp one-liners (about family, gender roles, tradition), and Ogborn's simple, singable lyrics burst with clever rhymes (Connecticut and etiquette) that poke fun at the Mayor's Office, the Mummers, and Philadelphia accents (the riotous voicing of "Coke and a Hoagie to Go" left me laughing so much it hurt). There's even a League of Nations joke to lend historical flair.
The toe-tapping score amuses with up-tempo vaudeville and jazz numbers spiced with some Mummers brass sounds, which Rios' choreography complements with brisk tap and Charleston-infused steps. Jeff Coon's rich baritone complements an all-star roster of Philadelphia talent (plus a few Broadway veterans), including Deirdre Finnegan, John Monforto, and Neill Hartley, plus musically versatile young actor Josh Totora.
Janus Stefanowicz has created magnificent period costumes, ranging from Martello's dazzling royal gown to the gauche feathers of Brennan's shimmering dress, and some ensembles that would make any of the Two Street brigades proud.
The story proceeds quickly, introducing and dropping characters (the entire opening number consists of telling us the background for the story line), and speeds through plot points that a more serious show would seek to flesh out. But I was laughing and smiling too much to care. Like a left-handed hook from Rocky Balboa, this new show came out of nowhere to stun me.
The Three Maries
Through Jan. 10 at the Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut St.