Thursday, August 14, 2008


Charming, tender HAROLD AND MAUDE at Cain Park

Yes, ‘HAROLD AND MAUDE, AN INTIMATE MUSICAL’ is based on the cult 1971 film ‘HAROLD AND MAUDE.’ Devotees of the film will have to accept that the musical not only changes the plot a bit, but softens up the chilly, darkly comic mood of the original. This is with good reason. A movie distances the viewer from the reality, theatre doesn’t allow for this. The insertion of music also changes the flow of the production. In addition, when one media is transformed into another, changes naturally take place. A classic example is the comedy film version of ‘THE PRODUCERS’ versus the musical version.

Does this mean that ‘HAROLD AND MAUDE, AN INTIMATE MUSICAL’ is a great piece of theatre? No. But, it has personal values that make for a charming and tender evening of theatre. And, if the reaction of the audience the night I attended is any indication, then there is much to like about Victoria Bussert’s staging and interpretation.

The plot line centers on an attention-starved young man so fascinated with death that he attends strangers funerals, frequently fakes his own suicide and decapitation, but eventually finds love and self-respect in the presence of a 79-year old bohemian Holocaust survivor who sees the world as a place to explore and appreciate rather than view through a prism of rules and frustration.

Tom Jones (“THE FANTASTICS”) and newcomer Joseph Thalken have written an often smart, funny, irreverent, tuneful score. Again, the movie-obsessed will complain because the period-and mood-defining Cat Stevens soundtrack has been replaced. Again, so what!

As for the Cain Park production. Are Corey Mach (Harold) and Maryann Nagel (Maude) the parallels to Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon of film fame? No. And, I, for one, am glad. They don’t attempt to duplicate those performances. (Just as Nathan Lane doesn’t do a Zero Mostel imitation in ‘THE PRODUCERS.’)

Yes, Nagel, with her beautiful complexion and youthful voice isn’t 79. After a short while, it matters little. Her charm and naturalness shine through, and with her wonderful singing voice, she enfolds us in the character’s philosophy of life. Her renditions of “Two Sides of a River,” “The Real Thing,” both sung with Mach, and “The Chance to Sing,” her plaintive solo, are all fine!

Tall, lanky and talented Mach is very believable as Harold. The opening scene, in which he sings a suicide note, climbs on a stool, puts his neck into a noose and steps off into the air and hangs there as his mother walks in, glances dismissively at the hanging body a few times, and reacts in horror with the line, "White socks with brown shoes!" is hysterical. He does a fine job of making the transition from an emotionally dead youth to a sensitive young man who seems to have found a purpose in life, thanks to Maude.

Jacqueline Cummins generally misses the mark as Harold’s mother. Yes, she is creating a caricature, but she does so inconsistently with little reality.

On the other hand, Devon Yates and Patrick Janson, who portray all of the other characters, are delightful. It’s worth the price of admission to watch Yates, as Sunshine, an off-the-wall performer, sing and act out the hysterical ‘Montezuma.”

Bussert paces the show well, and though there were some opportunities for even more delight, she does well in keeping the audience involved. Jodie Ricci’s musical direction is right on key!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: I found ‘HAROLD AND MAUDE, AN INTIMATE MUSICAL’ full of endearing melodies, quirky-humor and uplifting charm. For those who wanted this is to be a reenactment of the film version, get over it!