After A Funny thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Frank Loesser and George Abbott's Where's Charley? has got to be the most frenetic musical ever. That it doesn't get revived more often is probably because it's middle-drawer Loesser, with the exception of that song about being in love with a girl named Amy -- see, you're humming it already. And the plot, about an 1890s Oxford student pretending to be his rich aunt (money, the need for a chaperone, and the humor of a man pretending to be a woman being the reasons) is, well, antediluvian. It was probably dated on Broadway in 1948, but reports from then indicate that what put it over was the charm of its cast.
Which is exactly how and why the St. Jean's Players' production of the old chestnut was the treat that it was. Directed by Tom Nondorf, the play managed to tread several paths at once, mostly because it was played straight. Well, as straight as possible when you're dealing with a running gag like "I'm from Brazil, where the nuts come from!" But as delivered by Dennis Hurley, the line is a prehistoric groaner, completely at home in the lunacy of this Oxford that never was, and very, very funny. While he played directly, and often, to the audience, there was no mugging at the show's expense, which made for the unusual sensation of Where's Charley? being both a treasured memory (even if you'd never seen it before), and a piece of blatant postmodernism. Quite a combination, and quite a feat.
Wisely, the rest of the cast didn't try to compete with Hurley (how could they, and still pass a breathalizer test?) but each brought his or her charms to the freneticism. Marc Landers and Molly Richards were smashing as the romantic leads, and Richards in particular was in fine voice. Jennylind Parris's Amy was suitably befuddled by the antics of her Charley, and quite winning as well. The character parts were handled by Jerry W. Petardi and Bryan McHaffey with the smoothness and panache of the old pros they are -- Petardi balancing stuffiness with warmth, and McHaffey funny just running across the stage, carrying a large bouquet of flowers. Sharon Lowe as the real aunt (don't ask, just relax and enjoy) was sweet and charming. Special mention to a couple of the proteans Dustin Burrell and Brent Peebles, who were a pleasure in all their appearances.
That it all came across so well in the less than felicitous acoustics of the St. Jean Baptiste High School auditorium was also due to the musical direction and piano playing of Julie McBride. The set design (Greg Guiteras, Maryann Giarratano) was (understandably) minimal, but the costumes (M.C. Waldrup, Antonia Barba) were well-designed and comparatively lavish. The (necessarily) limited choreography of Jen Gowers and Barba still managed to be clever and effective.
It's almost embarrassing to have enjoyed it so much. Almost.
Also with Tammy Dalton-Brown, Bobby Baker, Lauren Amick, Jessica Mazo, Mark Mitchell, Luisa Sabella.
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Copyright 2004 David Mackler