Book by Hunter Foster
Music and Lyrics by David Kirshenbaum
Directed by Meredith McDonough
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
The Round House Theater production of Summer of 42 is silly, engaging, and, except for a few dead spots in Act 2, enjoyable all at the same time. The story is no surprise to anyone familiar with the movie that personified the sensitive young man character in many a school girl’s hearts, including this one, for many a’ year. Transforming the quiet melancholy story into a bouncing musical required a whole new take on the situation-no longer cloaked in seriousness, the piece focuses on the antics of three adolescent friends, revved up like hot wired jalopies raring to hit the freeway. The gang or “terrible trio” consists of all the usual suspects of stock characters– the show-off -know-it-all Oscy nicely played by Michael Vitaly Sazonov, the nerdy, bird watcher Benjie, played by David McLellan, and a wistful touching performance by Ryan Nealy as Hermie.
More than a “coming of age” story, this production of Summer of 42 relays a sense of place as well as a perfect pitch of time. The guys joke fondly about their hometowns in Brooklyn and Yonkers, which they joyfully leave for summer fun at a New England shore. It just so happens that the catastrophic national events of this particular summer – the nation is at the onset of an unexpected war – impact the nation and the lives of the three oblivious testosterone filled adolescents in ways they could never imagine.
It’s a lot to cover in a “fun filled” new musical; decisions had to be made about the overall tone and style, and obviously something had to be left out. What’s missing is any serious attention to character development. We don’t have a clue about the inner workings of these characters, but the clever music and frivolity can leave you in such happy moods that you really don’t care. The hypnotic waves of the beach are ever present with great sound cues and sandy beach set design by Matthew Nielson and James Kronzer respectively. The reality setting devices of a Walter Winchell character interjecting snippets of news from the war front after Pearl Harbor, and the Andrew Sisters’ tight harmony (and sweaters) relay a sense of war-time lite with a “don’t worry, be happy” cadence.
The most pervasive motivation on stage is the overwhelming and aching need for these guys to score, get laid, big time. Every move they make, every utterance, every contrivance, from carrying groceries, to trying to cop a feel at the movies, to frolicking on the beach, to purchasing a first set of condoms on a dare – a very funny encounter at the drugstore – everything is focused on who’s going to get there first. The good-looking, quick-spoken, athletic and sure footed Oscy (isn’t there always one of those in the high school crowd?) leads the way, scrambling to carouse with a trio of cuties on the pier for his buddies.
Meanwhile, Hermie only has eyes for Dorothy, the dutiful new wife of a G.I. played by Will Gartshore, all eight minutes of him, before he ships out. The awkward teenage scenes hit true to the mark as Hermie befriends the “older woman.” And of course, the term “befriends” is too strong, because that implies a sense of character depth, which is simply lacking here. Stil, Hermie and Dorothy, the vibrant toned, crystal clear soprano Nancy Snow, come across as genuinely fond of each other and share several lyrical duets, including a memorable “Someone to Dance With Me.”
Hunter Foster who wrote the book based on the novel and screenplay by Herman Raucher, is also an actor and singer, and the non-stop action in the script relays his need to keep moving. Director Meredith McDonough does just that. Everything moves, including the sides of the beach house which opens into softly lit interior space as needed. The climatic action, the coupling of Hermie and Dorothy based on her grief occurs near the end, without warning, without set-up, but the actors work effectively with what they’ve got and pull out a touching moment from fleeting references to war rations and just plain old ether.
Summer of 42 is a jitterbugging good time ride down memory lane, with a Buzz Light Year take on historical events and characterization – it’s fun and funny, as long as you know you’re going to infinity and beyond without a power pack.
(Running time: Approximately 2:00) Roundhouse Theater through June 24th at 4545 East-West Highway in Bethesda. Performance times: Wednesday 7:30pm, Thursday-Saturday 8pm; Sat and Sunday 3pm matinee. Tickets: $45 – $55. For further information call 240-664-1100 or http://www.roundhousetheatre.org/
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