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Theater: Mighty Mick on Broadway

3 minute read

SUGAR BABIES musical conceived by Ralph G. Allen and Harry Rigby

Nostalgia shows do not flourish on gilded memories alone. They remind us of things that we miss on the modern stage. We miss chorines who look smashingly lovely. The chorus line in Sugar Babies could qualify for the Miss America Pageant. We miss the assured versatility of a show-biz veteran. Mickey Rooney has grease paint in his blood and the house in his pocket.

He has lungs of iron and feet that skitter like a sandpiper’s. When he beams, the sun comes out. When he is troubled, the sky falls on Chicken Little. And when he leers, he is the naughtiest boy in class. Class is also the word for his partner and costar, Ann Miller. When haven’t we missed her long, lithesome legs? The years have left them far sounder than most currencies. Her taps are tops, routines done with effortless style and sophisticated rhythms. Do we miss burlesque, which forms the substance of Sugar Babies (if sheer fluff has substance)? Not so much, admittedly, for its cornball bag of tricks as for its relaxed mental climate, its absolution from thought. We relish its tipsy humors, its panting satyrs and bird-brained nymphs, who pursue each other with a strangely pagan innocence.

Most of the staples of burlesque are in Sugar Babies. The attempts at strip tease are pretty stripless, but there are consolations even in that sector. In a tribute to Sally Rand, Barbara Hanks and the entire chorus manipulate their lushly feathered fans with the trancelike motion of peacocks performing a ballet. There is a howlingly funny dog act, durable through the decades, in which a sullenly uncooperative spaniel does no stunts while his agonizingly animated trainer (Bob Williams) covers for the beast.

As a bawdy judge with a balky wig, Rooney breathes lewd life into the traditional courtroom skit as he scoots down from the bench for a popeyed examination of Miller’s aphrodisiacal legs. The role of the intermission bandit who hawks candy and salacious Parisian pictures is played with gruff and raffish comic aplomb by Sid Stone.

Along the way, there are vintage Jimmy McHugh songs to beguile the ear, notably Don’t Blame Me, I Feel a Song Comin ‘ On, I Can ‘t Give You Anything but Love, Baby. A patriotic red-white-and-blue finale with a naval motif finds the chorus sporting frigates for headgear and sends most playgoers out of the house on a wave of euphoria.

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