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A CurtainUp Review
Take Me Along

With Additional Thoughts by Elyse Sommer
There are 14 saloons in this town, and I've never set foot in one of them—the one on 4th Street .—Sid
Take Me Along
Beth Glover in Take Me Along
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Valentine's Day is gone but the sentiments of old-fashioned love are still wafting through the air in the Irish Repertory's romantically—scented revival of this generally underrated musical. A captivating adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's only comedy, Ah, Wilderness, it's mainly buoyed by the beguiling music and lyrics of Bob Merrill. It can also boast that the book by Joseph Stein and Robert Russell has an unselfconscious literacy that doesn't fail its source.

The delicate liveliness of Charlotte Moore's direction is a plus despite a major role that she unfortunately has allowed to go unchecked and out-of-control. Moore has certainly figured out how to make the best use of the Irish Rep's cramped stage. Set designer James Morgan has literally papered almost every space, column, and wall with colorful drawings that bring a whimsical depiction of Centerville, Connecticut on the Fourth of July 1920, although O'Neill actually set his play in 1906 as was the original 1959 Broadway production and the revival in 1985. But, after all, it's Independence Day, and that alone gives Moore the freedom to update the play for whatever reason that may remain a mystery.

It's hard to believe that almost half a century has passed since this winsome idyll provided beloved multi-talented TV comedian Jackie Gleason with a most auspicious vehicle. It's a good bet that most members of the audience are not carrying around a memory of the famously top-heavy Gleason as Uncle Sid. But it's a better bet that you will want to quickly erase from your mind the somewhat fatuous performance by the otherwise fine actor Don Stephenson as Uncle Sid, the family alcoholic. Perhaps it is Stephenson's intention to show Sid as an irredeemably obnoxious fellow, a loser without a single appealing or redeeming quality. This may be partly inherent in the role, but Stephenson's portrayal is too defined by cloying posturing, and it elicits neither our sympathy nor our compassion. As it is now being portrayed with a determinedly fey esprit, it also brings a totally new perspective to Sid's on-again off-again romance with Lily Miller, the spinster schoolteacher.

The rest of the Miller family characters are more engagingly balanced within the context of the plot. The adolescent yearnings and misadventures of young poetry-spouting Richard (Teddy Eck), the wide-eyed bewilderment of his sweetheart Muriel (Emily Skeggs) who doesn't understand a word Richard says, and the pseudo-sophistication of his older brother Art (Dewey Caddell), the pipe-smoking Yale man, may all seem a trifle too fantasized. But the resulting effect of O'Neill's touching quest for a childhood he never knew is in itself a wish fulfillment.

William Parry is especially touching as Nat Miller, the loving husband and father who tries vainly to be stern. His wistful thoughts on growing older, as expressed in "Staying Young, ," don't get in the way of youthful spirit as he and Sid (in one of Stephenson's more commendable exhibitions) do a soft-shoe to the title song. Choreographer Barry McNabb has staged the musical numbers with compact invention.

As Nat's wife Essie, Donna Bullock is appropriately warm and expressive. But if any role has the ability to steal the thunder it is that of spinster sister Lily (Beth Glover). Her red hair and radiant looks give the musical more sparkle than do the occasional flash of fireworks. Despite the burden she has to expend energy on intimating she is in love with a jerk, she is a delight reflecting the coy side of her nature with "I Get Embarrassed.," It's a pity that director Moore doesn't let her sing "Knights on White Horses," the poignant song that Merrill wrote for the 1985 revival.

The Pleasant Beach House, "the passion pit of Connecticut," is the setting for the show's most rousing number (also written for the 1985 revival) "If Jesus Don't Love Ya. . . Jack Daniels will" led by a vivacious Anastasia Barzeee, as a lady of the evening, Wint (Justin Packard), the young man who leads Richard astray, and the ensemble of prospective patrons. Tommy Miller is fine as the youngest Miller boy and Gordon Stanley is grumpy enough as Muriel's straight-laced father.

Various settings are achieved efficiently by the use of a turntable and the modest use of props and furnishings. Especially winning was the music created by a quartet of musicians (loved the banjo) seated behind audience members in the rear of stage right. Costume designer Linda Fisher's graceful period costumes, and Mary Jo Dondlinger's lighting help complete a portrait of a time when O'Neill could see himself part of "a dream walking."

Take Me Along opened on Broadway in 1959 starring Jackie Gleason, Walter Pidgeon, Robert Morse and Eileen Herlie. An underappreciated revival that had originated at Connecticut's Goodspeed Opera House opened on Broadway in 1985 and closed after seven previews and one regular performance (opening night). It, however, boasted some new material and songs by the original collaborators, some are happily included in this revival.

In a season of daring, edgy new musicals, the nostalgic charm of Take Me Along offers a nice respite. Thank you, Irish Rep for allowing us to re-visit this mostly forgotten musicalization of Eugene O'Neill's own escape from his own darker family. But as we're applauding the Rep, here's a clap and slap rolled into one.

As Simon Saltzman pointed out Charlotte Moore has indeed figured out how to make the most of the company's space, especially with generously sized musicals like Take Me Along and putting the musicians along the wall of the side seating section is a dandy way to make more room for the performers. But pity those sitting right along side them. Such proximity is bound to drown out many of the lyrics for them. While a good idea for the rest of the audience, this exacerbates the problems of sitting in that section, the most nagging being a large onstage support post which causes occasional blind spots. Thanks to being wallpapered with James Morgan's colorful scenic artwork, that post looks better than ever, but it's not transparent and it might have been better to focus on moving more of the action near that post towards the other side of the stage.

I found Don Stephenson's performance more clap than slapworthy. In this idealized vision of O'Neill's real family, the character of Sid struck me as interesting because he was the only one who might have fitted into Long Day's Journey or, even more likely, Moon for the Misbegotten. While I agree that the lovely Lil deserved better than Sid who is more than likely to fall off the wagon again, I think that Stephenson's performance can be compared to Kevin Spacey's interpretation of Jim Tyrone in the recent Moon for the Misbegotten revival which emphasized Jim's hammy actor side and the play's vaudevillian aspects. (my review). Since Take Me Along is a sunny comedy, this Sid as played by stephenson allows Lily, unlike Josie, to follow her heart and the audience to hope that her loser will indeed come through for her.

Like this musical, the play from which it is adapted isn't revived too ofen, though we have caught two lovely productions twice in the last ten years: Ah Wilderness by NAATCO and Ah Wilderness at Lincoln Center.

  Music & Lyrics by Bob Merrill
  Book by Joseph Stein & Robert Russell (Based on the play Ah, Wilderness by Eugene O'Neill)

Cast: Anastasia Barzee (Belle), Donna Bullock (Essie Miller), Dewey Caddell (Art Miller), Teddy Eck (Richard Miller), Beth Glover (Lily Miller), Justin Packard (Wint), William Parry (Nat Miller), Noah Ruff (Tommy Miller), Emily Skeggs (Muriel McComber), Gordon Stanley (Dave McComber), Don Stephenson (Sid Davis)
  Musicians: Mark Hartman (Piano, Music Director); Steve Gilewski (Bass), Nicholas DiFabbio (Banjo, Guitar); Jeremy Clayon (Woodwinds).
  Set Design: James Morgan
  Costume Design: Linda Fisher
  Lighting Design: Mary Jo Dondlinger
  Sound Design: Zachary Williamson
 Hair & Wig Design: Robert-Charles Vallance Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes including one intermission.
  The Irish Repertory Theater, 132 West 22nd Street. (212) 727 – 2737 Prices: ($60 and $55)
  Performances: Wednesday – Saturday 8 PM; Matinees Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday 3 PM.
  Previews: 02/20/08; Opened 02/28/08; Ends limited run 04/13/08--extended to 5/06/08
  Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 02/23/08
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture/Band
  • Opening/Nat and Company
  • Oh, Please/Nat, Essie
  • Oh, Please (Reprise)/Nat, Essie, Lily, Tommy
  • I WouldDie/ Muriel, Richard
  • Sid, Ol' Kid/Sid, Art, Gordon, Wint
  • Staying Young / Nat
  • I Get Embarrassed/Sid, Lily
  • We're Home/ Lily
  • Take Me Along/Nat and Sid
  • Take Me Along /The Only Pair I've Got / Belle, Ensemble
  • Pleasant Beach House /Wint
  • The Hurt They Write About /Richard
  • ! Would Die /Richard
Act Two
  • Entracte /Band
  • If Jesus Don't Love Ya/Belle, Ensemble
  • Oh, Please (Reprise 2)/Nat and Essie
  • Promise Me a Rose/ Lily
  • Staying Young (Reprise) /Nat
  • Little Green Snake /Sid
  • Nine O'Clock/ Richard
  • Nine O'Clock (Reprise)/ Richard, Muriel
  • But Yours /Sid,Lily
  • But Yours (Tag) Lily
  • I WouldDie(Reprise2)/ Nat
  • Finale/Company
  • Exit Music/Band

The  Playbill Broadway YearBook
The Playbill Broadway YearBook

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide


©Copyright 2008, Elyse Sommer.
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