Some intoxicating dancing ("Dance") and a song cycle ("Song") sinningly performed by the toothsome Bernadette Peters, got a new Broadway season off to a promising start last night at the Royale. Furthermore, the double bill has been gussied up with stylish scenic designs by Robin Wagner, spiffy costumes by Willa Kim, and excellent lighting by Jules Fisher.
But look no further. The song cycle is sentimental pap with one sock number ("I Have Never Felt Like This") reprised with all stops let out at the evening's finish. And while the choreographer, Peter Martins, has created some stunning passages for "Dance," the work is thematically rather senseless. Set to a "Theme and Variations" by Andrew Lloyd Webber, it is unimaginatively based on the Paganini Carprice (Op.1, No.24).
The enchanting Peters portrays an English girl (the show originated in London) come to America to enjoy its wonders, especially its male ones. Traversing a number of beds in New York before taking off for Los Angeles with a movie producer contemplating a musical based on "Rommel as a boy" (the only amusing line I can recall in this first half), she is repeatedly let down.
Returning to New York, she moves in with a Nebraska-born salesman, then takes up with a married man from Westport, and finally becomes a smashingly successful hat designer, but now with that hard "New York look."
If one doesn't pay too close attention to the words, some of which are lost in the atrocious amplification anyway, and catches a pleasant turn of musical phrase here and there, it should be enough pleasure just to watch and hear the adorable (Why do I keep calling her that? What else?) Peters, as she gracefully moves about the ever-changing setting.
The buoyant dancing in the second half really needs no explanation, but an attempt to tie it in with "Song" (a device ignored in the London presentation) finds the superb Christopher d'Amboise impersonating the Nebraskan of "Song" with a red baseball jacket and boots.
But he casts off the character to cavort gleefully with the equally vibrant Gregg Burge (who has a dandy tap solo), with his lissome sister Charlotte d'Amboise in a couple of immaculate pas-de-deux, and with a first-rate ensemble whose members get brief individual turns. To round things out, Peters saunters on toward the finish, and makes up with her Nebraskan while the chorus girls strut about in her fanciful headgear.
So, superficial and even downright silly as the story elements are, "Song and Dance" amounts to a brightly spirited entertainment, good to look at throughout and agreeable to the ear in spite of its questionable musical values.
If you share my view that Bernadette Peters can do no wrong that any person of sense or sensibility would recognize, then you will presumably have already booked your seats for Song and Dance. If you haven't - pray do so.
For the 1985-86 Broadway season is officially off and running, with the ever-adorable Bernadette Peters leading the parade.
To be more accurate it is off and humming, in fact, humming and tapping, because the new season's opening entry, which breezed into the Royale Theater last night, is Andrew Lloyd Webber's former London hit, Song and Dance.
Significantly, the song is song, the dance is dance, the twain never meet, and not a word is spoken, as opposed to sung, all evening.
The first part of the show - I suppose one could call it a dramatic cantata if one wanted to be fancy - is called, or rather was called in London, Tell Me on a Sunday.
This is completely self-contained, while the second half of the evening is simply a ballet set to concert music by Lloyd Webber, Variations, which is yet another set of variations, after the example of Rachmaninov and one or two others, on that diabolic A-minor Caprice by Paganini.
In London the show was treated by simply as a double-bill. Now, in this totally revised and rejigged version, there is an effort, I personally think misguided, to give the segments some kind of tenuous linking.
To be honest, I cannot quite see why. Would anyone operatically inclined try to link up Cav with Pag? Surely not even Franco Zeffirelli.
Still the attempt does no great harm, and at least provides a semi-plausible excuse for Miss Peters to come on stage in the finale to cut a tidy rug with the dancers.
The nub of the program remains Tell Me on a Sunday, and for my money this is best thing that Lloyd Webber has so far written for the theater.
The inspiration comes from the lyricist, Don Black, who conceived of a song-cycle, telling the culture shock and amorous entanglements of a young English girl who comes to New York, first to join a rock-drummer she met in London, later to make a somewhat mangled life.
Black's bittersweet, crazy-cute lyrics provided Lloyd Webber with the chance to write about a real human being, rather than biblical personages, historical figures, animals, or inanimate objects. This is Lloyd Webber's people show.
Both parts have been completely changed from the London original but the sea-changes that have engulfed Tell Me on a Sunday, are the more subtle and more profound.
And they are of particular interest because the show has been both vulgarized and yet, in a major sense, improved. It provides a fascinating example of "Broadwayization."
The present flivver for the dewy-eyed but tough, urchin-sparrow Miss Peters is far simpler in its outlines and machinery that the West End vehicle. A Dodge station wagon has been made out of a Jaguar sedan.
This musical diary of the heroine Emma's wanderings through the alien cornfields of New York and Los Angeles has been made more upbeat, less poignant, and far more obvious.
A key program credit goes to director Richard Maltby Jr., who is also acknowledged for "American adaptation and additional lyrics."
Some adaptations are slight but revealing - small things like substituting the name "Liberace" in one lyric for the more interestingly resonant and less banal "Mantovani"; others are wholesale and overwhelming. New songs added, old songs lost, and a slightly different concept pursued.
What was almost abstract - particularly in its staging - is now spelt out with cartoon-like energy. But what remains is the character of the little girl, lost but growing, up in the American jungle.
Emma, the savvy, lovable Cockney kid, looks at her new world with wide but long-distanced eyes. The smoothed-out story-line is now easy to follow, and the character of Emma is given a resilience that is utterly charming.
Also if the "Gee-Whiz! This-is-America," jokes have been broadened - and they are now an Atlantic ocean wide - they are also funnier.
There is also Lloyd Webber's often lovely music that has never sounded more tuneful or - more important perhaps - less derivative. And when it reminds you of anything, it is of Gian-Carlo Menotti's The Telephone, which, in the circumstances, is a happy precedent.
So much for the first half. The ballet portion - choreographed by the arch-classicist Peter Martins - is over-contrived.
Christopher d'Amboise (a principal dancer with New York City Ballet) plays the amiable Joe, whom we are led to understand is the foot-loose, wandering-eyed love of Emma's life.
The trouble is that if you can believe this you can belive that Winnie the Pooh had kittens - so we are left with the straightforward ballet we started with, but with that ballet trying to pretend to be a narrative addendum which never adds up.
Martins's choreography ranges from straightforward classicism (which looks remarkably virtuosic but not quite kosher on Broadway), to tap, adagio, disco and all points of the compass.
The comparison is nearly unfair, but you have to remember Bob Fosse's Dancin' to understand what Martins has to understand.
All the same, some of the present tap numbers in particular - tap dancer Gregg Burge was the associate choreographer - are delightfully well blended.
The dancing is excellent. The amiably gawky Mr.d'Amboise, recalling his father Jacques in the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but very much his own man, dancing with his own lopsided charm, is excellent.
Led by the lazily explosive d'Amboise, the male dancing is a notch better than the female. Burge can tap like a hot-footed demon, and the ballet-trained trio of Gen Horiuchi, Gregory Mitchell and Scott Wise zip with style.
The women are very good-looking and strong dancers, but have rather fewer chances to shine than their male counterparts.
Robin Wagner's scenery for the "song" and the "dance" is disappointingly ordinary, although Willa Kim's costumes show her customary custom-made wit.
Maltby's staging (Martins gets co-billing for production supervision) proves as deft as you could wish, and as for Miss Peters - although undercut by a slightly shaky English accent and over-amplification that made one long for subtitles - she is several and many times adorable.
She has become one of the hallowed stars of the American musical theater, and this opening one-woman show will not only provide instant enjoyment but will substantially add to her legend.
In ''Song & Dance,'' the new Andrew Lloyd Webber show at the Royale, the star Bernadette Peters and the choreographer Peter Martins all but break their necks trying to entertain us. In the first act, Miss Peters belts and sobs and shimmies her way through a solo song cycle that runs for a full hour. After intermission, Mr. Martins takes over, sending nine admirable dancers, led by Christopher d'Amboise, into a non-stop, 40-minute exhibition of pyrotechnics. So why is ''Song & Dance'' grating (Act I) and monotonous (Act II)? The mystery isn't hard to solve. No one has given Miss Peters anything to sing about or Mr. Martins's dancers any reason to leap. Empty material remains empty, no matter how talented those who perform it.
Miss Peters is more than talented: As an actress, singer, comedienne and all-around warming presence, she has no peer in the musical theater right now. In her half of ''Song & Dance,'' she works so hard you'd think she were pleading for mercy before a firing squad. Yet for all the vocal virtuosity, tempestuous fits and husky-toned charm she brings to her one-woman musical marathon, we never care if her character lives or dies (as long as she's brief about it). That heroine, an English hat maker named Emma who settles in New York, is a completely synthetic, not to mention insulting, creation whom no performer could redeem.
Describing herself as ''a girl who lets men take advantage,'' Emma devotes most of her 20-odd songs to sulking about her misadventures with various, unseen men who take her to bed and then kick her into the street. The authors treat her almost as shabbily. They don't bother to examine Emma - they merely exploit her. For all the time we spend with this woman, we learn little about her beyond her sexual activities. She is an empty-headed tramp with a heart of gold, exhumed from the graveyard of sexist stereotypes, and her mechanically told story might as well be the song delivered by Peron's discarded mistress in Mr. Lloyd Webber's ''Evita'' (''Another Suitcase, Another Hall'') played over and over, as if on a maddening film loop.
The men who created Emma are Don Black, who wrote the lyrics used in the even drearier 1982 London version of ''Song & Dance,'' and Richard Maltby Jr., the gifted lyricist and director (''Baby'') who receives credit for providing the show's Broadway edition with ''additional lyrics'' and its ''American adaptation.'' A few howlers aside - ''Loneliness must be the worst feeling of all'' or ''Show me a dream and I'll show you a nightmare!'' - Mr. Maltby has injected his customary professionalism into the inept London text. But he must share the blame for perpetuating, if not accentuating, the patronizing characterization of the heroine. And why didn't he give Miss Peters any material to capitalize on her sense of humor? The one comic song, a London holdover titled ''Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad,'' recycles Beverly Hills jokes that had seen better days when Joan Rivers was still in college.
It's a tribute to the star, who's incapable of a dishonest moment, that Act I of ''Song & Dance'' doesn't earn unintentional laughs even in a scene in which Emma's receipt of a green card is treated with a dramatic intensity worthy of ''Saint Joan.'' While much of Mr. Lloyd Webber's impersonal and bombastically orchestrated music sounds like the stuff that's piped into a 747 just before takeoff, Miss Peters does get to sing a few sprightly tunes. As is this composer's wont, the better songs are reprised so often that one can never be quite sure whether they are here to stay or are simply refusing to leave.
In Act II, Mr. Lloyd Webber provides no original music - this show is as miserly as his ''Cats'' is profligate - but instead offers his own variations on Paganini's A-minor Caprice. Rachmaninoff need not worry. Mr. Lloyd Webber's main contributions to Paganini, conducted by John Mauceri, are electronic gimcracks and a rock beat. Certainly his variations have failed to inspire Mr. Martins, whose labored vision of nocturnal Manhattan fleetingly recalls ''Fancy Free'' and ''Slaughter on Tenth Avenue'' but is unlikely to join them in repertory at the New York City Ballet.
Most of the choreography is a cynical, acrobatic approximation of vintage Broadway dancing, without the repose, pacing and conviction that make the prototypes electric. To forge a shotgun marriage between the song and dance halves of the evening, Mr. d'Amboise is costumed as one of Emma's Act I lovers - a cad named Joe whose only known characteristics are his place of birth (Nebraska) and favorite color (red). A fine young dancer who as yet lacks the stage presence to drive a Broadway show, Mr. d'Amboise raises his fist joyously when it's time to applaud.
Among his uniformly good supporting dancers, Cynthia Onrubia, Charlotte d'Amboise and Gregg Burge offer the least cutesy impersonations of the oppressively funky street people who inhabit Mr. Martins's dayglo fantasy world of subways and discos. Mr. Burge, last seen memorably in ''Sophisticated Ladies,'' has the standout bit, in which he instructs Mr. d'Amboise in tap dancing much as Charles ''Honi'' Coles did Tommy Tune (to more exciting effect) in ''My One and Only.''
None of the designers - Robin Wagner (sets), Jules Fisher (lighting), Willa Kim (costumes) - gives Mr. Martins a break. Their glitzy work is far too busy, with the ludicrously incessant costume changes, scenic gyrations and lighting cues often fighting one another and upstaging the choreography. During Mr. Maltby's static staging of Act I, when such frenzied activity would be welcome, the design is subdued (and, in the case of some already smudged purple panels, tacky). But Miss Kim has designed one imaginative set of costumes with a Chrysler Building motif for Act II, and Mr. Wagner unveils a Manhattan skyline that looks as deep and mystically hazy as the Grand Canyon. There is also a starry firmament at evening's end, when Miss Peters re-emerges and ''Song & Dance'' becomes so desperate for inspiration that it actually deigns (for about a minute) to give us song and dance at the same time.