Sunday, October 03, 2004

Summer of '42 (Kalliope Stage)

Tender, delightful 'SUMMER OF '42' opens Kalliope's 2nd season

Kalliope Stage, one of Cleveland’s newest theatres and the only area theatre dedicated to producing only musicals, has opened its second season with a wonderful production of ‘SUMMER OF ‘42.’

Does the show’s name sound familiar? It should. ‘SUMMER OF ‘42’ was the hit coming-of-age movie in 1971.

The plot concerns Hermie, an awkward, gawky, confused teenager whose summer of fun becomes a bittersweet lesson in love when he falls in love with a young war bride in a seaside town.

The play, which is based on the novel and screenplay by Herman Raucher, has words and music by David Kirschenbaum and a book by Hunter Foster. The duo has remained faithful to the film and even improved upon it. They have created a fully integrated work, where dialogue and songs interweave seamlessly, complementing each other with precision. The addition of the music adds a dimension of reality and tenderness to the story.

Kirshenbaum's score makes use of World War II-era music and incorporates self-perceptive and emotionally laden ballads which add more to the happenings than Michel LeGrand's Oscar-winning score for the movie, which centered on the song "The Summer Knows."

Kalliope Stage’s production, under the watchful eye of Paul Gurgol, is excellent. Gurgol gets all of the laughs, the tenderness and the reality out of the script. He allows the audience to become swallowed up in the era He is aided greatly by Russ Borski’s mood setting and workable set, Kim Brown’s period right costumes, Marcus Dana’s lighting design and Chad Helm’s sound design. The playing space also aids. This is a play that needs intimacy and since no viewer is more than 15-feet from the action in Kalliope’s small theatre, the personal tie to the performers is easily accomplished.

The Kalliope cast is excellent. Beachwood High School senior Alex Wyse was born to play Hermie. His skinny frame, which features flailing arms and weak-kneed legs, gives him a look which is perfect for the role. But more important is Wyse’s total control over the character. His small, yet well-pitched voice, is plaintive in the love songs, his yearnings perfectly revealed. It’s worth seeing the show just to share Hermie’s anguish and angst as Wyse lives them.

Jodi Brinkman is the perfect Broadway-leading lady. She is a wonderful actress, beautiful and possesses a compelling and big vocal sound. She makes for a perfect Dorothy. Wyse and Brinkman not only sing well together, but seem to have a powerful emotional connection.

Jay Strauss, a veteran New York actor, plays the drug store owner, Walter Winchell and the aged Hermie with total delight. He is a wonderful character actor.

Both Dan O’Neil (Benjie) and Aaron Dore (Oscy) portray Hermie’s teenage friends well. O’Neil hits the role of the bird-watching intellect right on. Dore would be more effective if he would let his natural personality carry him, rather than trying to act his role. He often appears to be trying too hard to be the hormone driven Oscy.

Jamie Finkenthal, Elizabeth Kelly and Julie Marx are fine as both as the younger version of Andrews Sisters-type singers and teenage girls.

Highlights of the show include the drugstore scene in which Hermie attempts to buy condoms, the hysterically funny movie scene in which the boys attempt to make their first “scores,” and the “unfinished business” scene in which the boys are getting ready for their first conquests. Cheat notes have never been so hilarious!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The recent trends in American musicals are in your face offerings such as ‘RENT’ and ‘ASSASSINS.’ Sometimes it’s just nice to see a musical offering that is charming, full of smiles and laughs, and contains pleasant music. It also helps if the production is of high quality. If that’s what your looking for, Kalliope Stage’s second season opener, ‘SUMMER OF ‘42’ will delight you.