Writer Greg Senf has developed a sentimental journey as the vehicle for rescuing the story of John Fremont (Senf) -- U.S. explorer, and disappointed presidential hopeful in 1856 -- from the dustbin of history. Regrettably, the June-Moon-spoon lyrics (e.g.: "Delight-Sight-Bright-Night") by Senf did not fulfill the promise of the tuneful and often richly complex music created by Jeremy Rosen and Richard Sussman. Sadly, the story as told through the eyes of Fremont's widow, Jessie Benton Fremont (Beth Chiarelli), has more the feel of an exam-cram lecture than the 19th-century adventure that was her life with the principled John Fremont. Although some of the songs provided interesting primers on American history, the play was, at times, too talky for a musical.
While the costumes (Thomas Harlan) were extensive, they were often ill-fitting. The lighting (Jessie Thatcher) was unremarkable and did little to resolve the director's inattention to the time travel indicated by Jessie's flashbacks. Dramatic conflict in this play revolved around an argument between Jessie's unique devotion to her deceased husband and her daughter Lily (Amanda-Adair Brown)'s perhaps more realistic assessment of her father's absenteeism, as it affected her mother's unrealized potential. Indeed, the intergenerational quarrel about women's roles could have provided more drama, but that wasn't after all the point of this play.
Beth Chiarelli, sweet-voiced and clear-spoken, was well-chosen for the part of the adoring spouse, Jessie. When daughter Lily failed to be sympathetic, the Ancient Mariner-like Jessie found a ready listener in a schoolgirl with the amusing name of Catherine Coffin (well-played by Kristen Hammer), to whom she opened up.
As directed, Jessie's loyalty was both her strength and her weakness as a character. The dark underbelly of the story of John's failures was papered over with her timeless nostalgia -- a decision that diminished the book and the lyrics.
Cast also included Kevin Collins in four roles; John Abate in three.
Book: 1/Lyrics: 1/Music: 2
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Copyright 2004 Deborah S. Greenhut