Berkshires Company Seizes on a Fine Moment for ‘Fiorello!'

It seems an ideal time for New York’s first fully staged revival of “Fiorello,” a musical by the creators of “Fiddler on the Roof” and “She Loves Me” that celebrates a politician who walked the walk and talked the talk--even if it meant enlisting in the armed services to do battle with German bombers.

“Fiorello,” which ran on Broadway from 1959 to 1961, tracks the early days of Fiorello H. LaGuardia, from his efforts to expel the corrupt leaders of Tammany Hall until just before taking office as mayor. It won the 1960 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony for new musical, an honor it shared with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music.”

The production now at the East 13th Street Theater first opened in June at the Berkshire Theatre Group’s home in Stockbridge, Mass. The company has taken the unusual step of renting the Classic Stage Company’s base, seizing an arguably opportune moment for a story that seems quaint: a musical about an honest politician?

Highlights include the full-of-swagger “Little Tin Box,” in which pocket-lining hacks sing about how they’ll explain their ill-gotten gains to a court, and “I Love a Cop,” in which an empowered waif finds herself inexplicably drawn to the lawman who keeps trying to arrest her.

A confident Austin Scott Lombardi leads the cast of 20-something actors, wearing the suspenders of the “Little Flower,” a half-Italian, half-Jewish, 5-foot-2 politico.

Rebecca Brudner is lovely as Thea, LaGuardia’s first wife, who dies in her mid-20s from tuberculosis. Katie Birenboim has equal parts fire and winsomeness as Marie, the politician’s secretary, who for some 15 years carries an unrequited torch for her boss.

Also turning in strong performances are Matt McLean, as one of LaGuardia’s dedicated staffers, and Rylan Morsbach, as a Republican rainmaker whose fortunes align with LaGuardia’s time and again.

“Fiorello!” was last seen in the city in scaled-down form during the 2013 season of “Encores!” at City Center, a venue that owes its existence in part to Mayor LaGuardia. This Off-Broadway production is directed by Robert Moss, founder of Playwrights Horizons.

Both “Fiddler” and “She Loves Me” saw acclaimed Broadway revivals last season, and “Fiorello!” audiences will note similarities in particular to the latter, with its primary and secondary love stories, and a front-and-center element of the bittersweet. The BTG’s transfer is sweet, lively and timely.

“Fiorello!” through Oct. 7 at the East 13th Street Theater, 136 E. 13th St. Tickets: $59-$99. Call 800-838-3006.

Follow Robert Kahn on Twitter@RobertKahn

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