LETTERS TO EDITOR
BOOKS and CDs
Type too small?
A CurtainUp Review
Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!
by David Lohrey
The production currently at the Triad is not, of course, a premiere, but a revival of the popular hit which opened almost 10 years ago at the Circle in the Square Theatre. Here the material remains the same, shaped again as it was before around the invented character Barry Bockman. Taken from birth to early retirement, the daringly quaint Sherman folk songs both illustrate and dramatize the joys and traumas of growing up Jewish in and around New York City in the magical years of the early 60s. For many, the songs are instantaneously recognizable and inspire warm, indulgent smiles. But there were many small children in the audience, who were too young to be affected by nostalgia for Sherman, their own pasts, or the 60s. Their delighted smiles testify to the immortality and universality of Sherman’s oddball tunes.
Many of the great tunes are presented and cleverly arranged topically and chronologically so that, for example, the camp songs ("I Can’t Dance," "Kiss of Myer," "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh") follow Barry’s reactions to and experiences of Camp Granada and his interactions with the girls at Camp Pinecohen. Barry’s courtship of Sarah leads them to "da Bronx Zoo," and to the delightful tune "One Hippopotami". Act One ends with a rousing rendition of "Harvey and Sheila," sung powerfully by Larry Cahn and Kristie Dale Sanders. Although chiefly light-hearted and sentimental, some of Sherman’s lyrics are surprisingly sharp and cut deep. The bedroom sequence between the worried parents, grownups Barry (Kevin Pariseau) and Sarah (Leslie Lorusso), includes three haunting little tunes which prefigure Sondheim: "Crazy Downtown," "Did I Ever Really Live," "Like Yours". The show ends with the remarkable "The Ballad of Harry Lewis," an obituary sung in memory of a Miami nobody who becomes a Jewish Everyman. It is beautiful and moving.
The cast overall is stunning. Kevin Pariseau possesses an inner-child he is able to expose at will. He is at once 8 and then 47, all in the puff of a check. He is all charm, all innocence, all hurt. His little friend, and future wife is played with gusto by Leslie Lorusso. She has all the spunk you need to survive New Rochelle. Larry Cahn is an utterly persuasive Jewish patriarch, a kind of dancing Saul Bellow character without brains. His wife, played by Kristie Dale Sanders, is sensational at all times, but brought the house down in her "Mexican Hat Dance". The only sour note of the evening was hit again and again by Jimmy Spadola, whose obnoxious Uncle Phil struck me as more Italian Hoboken than Jewish New Rochelle. His excessive gold necklaces, the pink yarmulke, and rapid pelvic thrusts combined to create one giant turn-off. But other than that the cast plays well together, and moves about the tiny Triad space with great confidence, no doubt assisted by the able direction of Rob Krausz. The set adds to the evening’s joyous atmosphere. Designed by William Barclay, it is all yellows and oranges, and works admirably for its multiple purposes. But the real star of the evening, besides Allan Sherman, is the costume designer, Michael Louis, who has done a spectacular job of creating in what must be over a hundred costume changes a burst of sunshine and whimsy which could set anyone’s feet atapping. They should save every bit of fabric and wait 50 years. Surely the Met will come calling.
The evening goes by all the more festively, as the house is arranged as a nightclub, with drinks served before the show and during intermission. It’s the perfect atmosphere for this material. After all, Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! might not in itself be much to listen to, but tucked away as it is in this clownish display, the song captures an era, and that, as the saying goes, ain’t small potatoes.