Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Dear World

‘DEAR WORLD’ a pleasant diversion at Kalliope

‘DEAR WORLD,’ which is now being staged by Kalliope Stage, is one of those plays that, on the surface, has all the elements that should have made for a long running Broadway hit. The musical, which opened in 1969, starred Angela Lansbury, was written by Cleveland native Jerome Lawrence and Elyria’s Robert E. Lee (‘MAME’ and ‘INHERIT THE WIND’) and had music and lyrics by Jerry Herman (‘HELLO DOLLY!,’ ‘MAME,’ and ‘LA CAGES AUX FAUX.’ To add to the mix, it is based on Jean Giradoux’s much acclaimed play ‘THE MADWOMAN OF CHALLIOT.’

So, why did ‘DEAR WORLD’ open to terrible reviews and run only 132 performances? The script went through many rewrites, songs were cut and others added, directors were hired and fired, choreographers came and went, artistic differences between Lansbury and each of the directors emerged. Most important, in the minds of some of the show’s cult followers, was that the intimate show was overwhelmed by massive production qualities and the theatre in which it opened was too large for what should have been an intimate show.

‘DEAR WORLD’ is the story of three "madwomen" (Aurelia, Constance and Gabrielle) who deviously scheme to stop some businessmen who plan to drill for oil in the neighborhood of Chaillot in Paris. And, as in all good musical farces, eventually the forces of “poetry, love, and idealism win over those of materialism, science, and greed.”

Kalliope’s 75-seat, four row theatre, is a perfect intimate venue. Be aware that Kalliope is staging a different script than the Broadway flop. The show has been rewritten and cut songs restored. The revised version received a 2000 production at Goodspeed Musicals and at Sundance Theatre in 2002. Both of these stagings received more positive reviews than the original Big Apple production.

Kalliope’s production is entertaining. Juliette Regnier (Mme. Constance) and Marla Berg (Mme Gabrielle) are total delights. They are the epitome of farce well played…broad, but believable. Omri Schein’s comic timing and mobile face light up the stage each time he appears as the Sewerman. Dash Combs is pleasing as the Mime. Jodi Brinkman, as always, sings and acts with positive effect.

Liz Rubino, who was forced into action twenty-four hours before the show opened, sang the role of Countess Aurelia well. She failed to develop the comic madwoman approach on opening night, but she is a talented actress and as the show runs, she should develop that aspect of the role.

Jared Sampson has matinee idol good looks and a nice voice. Unfortunately, his performance abilities don’t match his other attributes. He acts his lines and feigns facial expressions rather than experiencing them. The three Presidents were generally played much too subtly, not making the characters bigger than life…a requirement for bad guys in farces. (BTW..that fake cigar did little to enhance President One’s character.)

Russ Borski’s set worked well, especially considering the postage sized stage he had to work with. Unfortunately, the quality and design of his costumes left much to be desired.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘DEAR WORLD’ is not a classic musical theatre script. In spite of a fine pedigree, the piece doesn’t command awe. With that said, Kalliope’s production, under the direction of Paul Gurgol, is entertaining and most attendees will enjoy themselves.