NEW YORK (AP) -- It takes the comic-operetta canoodling of Kristin Chenoweth and Douglas Sills to jump-start the tasteful yet sedate concert version of "Music in the Air."
In this mild recreation of the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II musical, Chenoweth and Sills portray a pair of battling lovers. She's a prima donna and he's a playwright, a twosome who can't seem to live with or without each other. Both are in glorious voice and great scene-stealing form.
The show itself exudes a certain wistfulness for operetta, which was on the way out when "Music in the Air" first opened on Broadway in 1932. The sweeping, romantic — some might say bombastic — melodies of Romberg and Friml were giving way to the jazzy, more urban sounds of Gershwin, Porter and Berlin.
And Kern and Hammerstein themselves were helping to push musical theater forward, too. Only five years earlier — in 1927 — they created their landmark musical "Show Boat." But with "Music in the Air," they decided to pay homage to the form that had first brought Hammerstein success earlier in the '20s when he wrote the lyrics for such operettas as "Rose-Marie" and "The New Moon."
Kern's melodies for "Music in the Air'"' are gorgeous and sophisticated, for example, in terms of employing the sounds of everyday life in the opening moments of the show. They include the twitterings of a bird which becomes the music for what is probably one of the show's best-known songs, "I've Told Every Little Star."
It's that song that propels Hammerstein's meager tale of a music teacher (Tom Alan Robbins) in rural Bavaria who sets off for the big, bad city — in this case, Munich — to get his bird-inspired composition published. Along for the ride are the teacher's daughter (Sierra Boggess) and her strapping boyfriend (Ryan Silverman), the local school master. Of course, the younger couple serves as a diversion for the older, more worldly show-biz pair. Naturally, all is set right by the time the curtain falls, although with a slight twinge of regret.
Setting up even this meager plot is surprisingly laborious under Gary Griffin's straightforward direction. David Ives' adaptation of Hammerstein's original book contains large sections of dry, dull passages relieved only by Kern's melodious underscoring
Boggess makes a sweet ingenue and Silverman has an eager, winning charm as the young man seduced by the formidable Chenoweth. Such sterling veteran performers as Walter Charles, David Schramm, Dick Latessa and Marni Nixon offer more strong support.
But it is the saucy Chenoweth and preening Sills whom you'll remember most after the curtain comes down, particularly after each gets a chance to warble another of those gold-plated Kern-Hammerstein standards, "The Song Is You."
"Music in the Air" runs through Sunday at City Center.