Theater: Hail Caesar

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Little Me stars Sid Caesar in seven roles—all the men in the farcical saga of Belle Poitrine, the ail-American show girl originally lampooned in Patrick Dennis' novel. Caesar vanquishes Broadway in a one-man comic population explosion.

As a waspish old skinflint, he fumbles out a wad of bills the shape of a doughnut, lofts it with a Scroogean cackle, blows ancient dust off it. To a sound that resembles a crew of termites dismantling a xylophone, a straw-hatted Caesar struts onstage as Val du Val ("Big V, little d, Big V") and bluffs his way through a nightclub boulevardier's tap dance, blushing with Gallic pride at the sheer virtuosity of toes that are all thumbs. As Fred Poitrine, a myopic doughbrain in a World War I uniform, Sid takes a bride but fails to notice that she is pregnant: "Don't you understand, I'd only want to marry you for your name?" "Fred?" he asks, blinking owlishly. "You like it that much?"

Great Caesar's greatest impersonation is Otto Schnitzler, an imported Teutonic tyrant of a movie director whose twelve grandiose flops have reduced him to delivering "hot pastrami, all fat," for a delicatessen. Making his comeback picture, Schnitzler soulfully demonstrates how the lovelorn hero plunges a suicidal dagger into his heart. But the prop man goofed. Hand on hilt, Caesar puckers his brow in disbelief: "You mean you looked all ofer Hollyvood and you couldn't find a fake knife?" Comes the dawn, followed, in a hilariously slow triple take, by noon, night, and rigor mortis.

Sid Caesar keeps Little Me spinning, but the show does not revolve wholly around him, or dissolve without him. Virginia Martin is a dingdong Belle, the poor little waif with a heart of brass and a voice to match, who spends the evening chugging, with brassy valiance, from the wrong side of the tracks to the rich side.

Neil Simon's tart, wisecracking script shows an unsentimental flair for wacky hit-and-run parody. Sometimes cliches are set warring with tonic effect. After Caesar has been cleaned out at Monte Carlo, he puts a pistol to his head ("It's the only way out"). In a split second change of mind, he sweeps the gun in a gleaming arc toward the croupier and barks: "This is a stick-up."

Bob Fosse's dance sequences are an enlightened delight; he spurns the assumption that collective frenzy onstage is contagious, gives the playgoer a chance to enjoy what the dance means. In the Rich Kids' Rag, blue blood seems to have clotted in the joints of the young snobs who are loftily striving to unbend. Real Live Girl is a wistful chorale of men without women in which the gestures of frontline camaraderie and foot-slogging are subtly altered to create a balletic lyric of loneliness. The show-topper is a driving erotic solo, I've Got Your Number, done by Swen Swenson. who writhes and stomps with flamenco force.

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