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LETTERS TO EDITOR
Summer of '42
Hunter Foster's book for the musical sticks closely to Herman Raucher's sentimental memory tale about fifteen-year Hermie (Ryan Driscoll) who, through his friendship with Dorothy (Kate Jennings Grant)), a young war bride, learns that there's more to romance than touching a girl's breasts. Breast touching is still a high priority for Hermie's friend Oscy (Brett Tabisel). Benjie (Jason Marcus), the third member of "the terrible trio" of New York boys who spend summers at an idyllic New England beach resort named Plackett Island is more interested in birds than girls'breasts. The laughs revolves around the trio's pursuit of three girls (Celia Keenan-Bolger as Aggie, Megan Valerie Walker as Miriam, Erin Webley as Gloria) they meet at the local movie house and Hermie's crush on Dorothy. The comic aspects of that boy-woman friendship take a deeply emotional and never-to-be forgotten turn when Dorothy receives news of her soldier husband Pete's (Greg Stone)death.
Foster's most drastic update is the introduction of periodic broadcasts by Walter Winchell (Bill Kux who also doubles up as the owner of the drug store where Hermie sheepishly tries to buy condoms) and having the three female counterparts to the "terrible trio" double as an Andrews Sisters style Greek chorus. Unlike Urinetown, in which Foster is a leading performer, Summer of '42 has no sharp edges, nor does it have lots of scenic or choreographic bells and whistles. Instead, it drips with the sweetness of youth on the cusp of maturity and love intensified by wartime separation.
The endearing and talented cast has a most attractive leading lady in Kate Jennings Grant and wrings every melodic note out of David Kirshenbaum's score. That score is also given a boost by the excellent small band, which is divided into two trios at the foot of stage right and left — an excellent way to distribute the sound evenly and giving maximum stage space to the actors.
The music and dialogue are very well integrated, but as with any musical, it's hard to judge the stick-to-the-ear quality of songs from a single listening experience. Still, while there are a couple of songs that stand out, like "Little Did I Dream", "I Think I Like Her" and "Someone to Dance With Me", the overall impression of the music is bland as untoasted and unbuttered white bread. The lyrics, also by Kirshenbaum, are laced with greeting card rhyme schemes and sentiments. (e.g.: "Whenever you've been feeling/the clouds will follow you forever. . . /Whenever you've been thinking/That life is mostly sad and strange. . . then all at once, the skies are clearing./You watch the heavens rearrange. With just the promise of the morning/Things can change").
There's nothing terribly wrong with this greeting card flavor that overarches both music and story. Hallmark and Blue Mountain Arts sell a lot of cards and Summer of '42 is likely to keep the Variety Arts filled far longer than its predecessor, Reefer Madness (CurtainUp's review)). Director Barre moves the story along smoothly, and frames it with an apt film noir opening: A trench-coated man, his face hidden by a broad-brimmed hat, walks towards stage surveying the scene. Presto. Off with the coat, and enter young Hermie to flashback to the memorable summer of his fifteenth year.
The Winchell/Andrew Sisters scenes are fun and their songs while no match for the real Andrews Sisters' enduring tuners, are enjoyable. Thanks to Pamela Scofield's carefully researched costumes, the cast is authentically early 40s — e.g. halter-topped dresses, cuff-legged bathing suits, prim little handbags. The triple-decker ice cream cones with sprinkles make your mouth water.
James Youmans' scenic design brings to mind the old saw about whether the cup is half empty or half full. The blue sky scrim that lifts to reveal a sandy beach plus the occasional switch for the Walter Winchell scenes are apt and serviceable. But, oh that sandy beach! Maybe those sitting in the rear won't note the difference between carpeting and sand, but even those in the last row of the balcony will wonder why Youmans couldn't have concocted that frequently rolled on stage dune to look less like a cross between an upholstered chaise lounge and an upholstered bathtub. If this show should prove to have legs strong enough to carry it to Broadway that set would need considerable sprucing up. I hardly think such a move is likely and suspect that the show's best chance for a solid run is in its current location.
As this Summer of '42 draws to a close, you can't help feeling sad for these boys who were too young for this war but old enough to be caught up in the Korean War. Given Herman Raucher's real inspiration for writing this story, brash Oscy's moment of reflection is prescient: "Maybe guys like you and me are made for the Army. . . you know, trenches and tanks. . . a place where girls can't drive us buggy" You see, there really was an Oscy in Raucher's life and that Oscy was killed in the Korean War. It is that sense of watching lives that will undergo drastic changes, including death at an early age, that makes all that picture postcard hokeyness tug ever so gently at the heartstrings even of those who are most resistant to musicals falling within the genre of sentimental confection.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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