"Give me an example of the word satiate," says one vaudevillian to another.
"I'll take my girl to dinner and I'll say she ate," replies his partner.There you have the zany, pun-filled essence of "Tip-Toes," the 1925 Gershwin musical that had the first of six buoyant concert performances at Weill Recital Hall on Wednesday evening.
The show, which includes at least three top-notch little-known George Gershwin melodies with clever lyrics by Ira Gershwin (who was just beginning to exhibit the verbal dexterity that would emerge full-blown over the next two years in "Oh, Kay!" and "Funny Face"), is a quintessential '20s musical in its rhythm-charged effervescence. Its wafer-thin book by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson tells the story of the Three Kayes, Al (Lewis J. Stadlen), Uncle Hen (Lee Wilkof), and Tip-Toes (Emily Loesser), a vaudeville family trio that ludicrously tries to pass as bluebloods in snooty Palm Beach.
Because Tip-Toes, the pretty female member of the trio, once had a flirtation with the duplicitous Rollo Metcalf (Mark Baker), a comic hullaballoo arises over an incriminating snapshot that falls into the hands of Rollo's jealous wife, Sylvia (Cynthia Sophiea). Meanwhile, Sylvia's brother Steve (Andy Taylor), the socially naive millionaire owner of a glue factory, arrives, immediately meets Tip-Toes and falls in love. But who is she? After a minor car accident leaves her with temporary amnesia and an identity crisis, she isn't sure whether she is "Tip-Toes Kaye" or the person her scheming relatives insist she is, a bogus socialite named Roberta Calhoun Van Rensselaer.
Not to worry: things sort themselves out, true love triumphs.
No, it isn't much of a story, and the first act drags on (as first acts in vintage musicals tend to do). But the score's best songs and the orchestrations, reconstructed from parts found in a Secaucus, N.J., warehouse in the 1980s, have that irresistible fizz. And Rob Fisher, conducting a 25-piece orchestra, perfectly captures the lilt of a score (featuring two pianos) that at its perkiest conveys a compressed frenzy of euphoria.
One standout Gershwin number, "When Do We Dance?," is a joyous, sharply syncopated Charleston sung by the rough-hewn millionaire Steve and his two giggling female tutors (Rachel Coloff and Alet Oury) in Palm Beach refinement. In Tip-Toes' delicious solo, "Looking for a Boy," you can hear the seeds of "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "How Long Has This Been Going On?" sprouting.
If Ira Gershwin's lyric ("I am just a little girl who's longing for a little boy who's longing for a girl to love") doesn't quite transcend mundane convention, you can sense his imminent breakthrough. Best of all is "Sweet and Low-Down," a supercharged dance number with a skidding tune that etches itself on your brain.