The concert revival of the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning 1959 musical Fiorello!, presented as the season opener of the Encores! series at City Center this past weekend, received mixed reviews but universal acclaim for supporting actor Shuler Hensley. The creative team for the production included Jerome Weidman and George Abbott (book), John Weidman (adaptation), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), Jerry Bock (music), Gary Griffin (direction), Rob Berman (music direction), Alex Sanchez (choreography), John Lee Beatty (sets), Jess Goldstein (costumes), Ken Billington (lights), Scott Lehrer (sound), and Irwin Kostal (orchestrations). The cast included Kate Baldwin (Thea), Jeremy Bobb (Floyd McDuff), Ray DeMattis (Mr. Zappatella), Erin Dilly (Marie), Jenn Gambatese (Dora), Adam Heller (Morris), Shuler Hensley (Ben Marino), Richard Ruíz (Mr. Lopez), Danny Rutigliano (Fiorello La Guardia), Andrew Samonsky (Neil), Emily Skinner (Mitzi Travers) and Cheryl Stern (Mrs. Pomerantz).
Ben Brantley (N.Y. Times): Let’s hear it for the boys of the American musical. No, not the gentlemen of the chorus. This time I mean those tough, growly guys who wouldn’t know a chassé step unless it kicked ‘em right in the kisser. … Having seen Mr. Hensley’s Ben Marino and his back-room cronies put over a sly showstopper about graft and perjury called “Little Tin Box,” I can attest that they too belong right up there in the Singing Lug Hall of Fame. … Mr. Rutigliano runs confidently with a part he would seem to be born for. … Thank Heaven that Encores! makes it such a pleasure for us to savor the near-greatness of times past and to assess the difference.
Joe Dziemianowicz (Daily News): Like a big air kiss, the show is back to launch the 20th-anniversary season. You gotta love it, right? Unfortunately, no. … In the title role, Rutigliano nails the character’s pro-underdog pugnacity, but never opens a window to his charms. … Now, some good news. Shuler Hensley plays a gruff politico and, with an ace men’s ensemble, hits all the right notes on “Politics and Poker” and “Little Tin Box.” Hensley comes close to earning the exclamation point on Fiorello! Ditto Dilly. She mostly pines as the marriage-minded Marie. … Between Hensley and Dilly, I’m in like with this Fiorello! That ain’t love. But it ain’t nothing.
Brian Scott Lipton (Theater Mania): It’s a rather oddly structured affair that tells us precious little about the so-called Little Flower (played here with suitable gusto by the pint-sized Danny Rutigliano). … We don’t learn much about LaGuardia other than his essential decency, brash attitude, and willingness to take on Tammany Hall. … The great Shuler Hensley, in the production’s standout performance as political bigwig Ben Marino, practically devours the show’s best-known tune, the clever “Little Tin Box,” aided by a first-rate chorus of gentlemen. … How Fiorello! made it to the top of Tony ticket instead of being an also-ran is beyond my powers of explanation. Is it too late for a recount?
Linda Winer (Newsday): The cast is not as delightful or dazzling as it was in 1994. This is especially true in the crucial center, where Danny Rutigliano … too often seems just a mean little man. … The narrative detours and middling humor are not advantages. And yet, despite all this, there is still much to enjoy. … Erin Dilly is terrific as his lovelorn girl Friday. Emily Skinner drops in to belt the torchy-diva number, and Shuler Hensley, despite a growly sound, is a treat as the machine boss. … And there is a dark new song that works beautifully … the last music Bock wrote before he died in 2010. This is its premiere. And this is why we continue to treasure Encores!