For whom the bells toll

Park Avenue

Theatre 1010
Book by George S. Kaufman and Nunnally Johnson, music by Arthur Schwartz, and lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Directed by David Fuller
Musical Direction and Arrangements by Allan Greene
1010 Park Ave. (288-3246 x3)
Equity Showcase (closes June 6)
Review by Julie Halpern

Park Avenue ran only nine weeks on Broadway back in 1946. Overshadowed by post-war hits like Annie Get Your Gun and Carousel, the show's brief run is not surprising. It has a contrived, dated ambience, more reminiscent of a '30s screwball comedy, lacking the ebullience and scope of other contemporary musicals. The theme of marrying and remarrying among the decadent and alcoholic rich of Park Avenue and Long Island wears thin very quickly. Kaufman and Johnson's book creaks embarrassingly, and Schwartz's and Gershwin's trite, repetitive songs have not aged well either.

Although there is little to admire among these characters, the skilled ensemble for the most part succeeded in bringing likability to them. Director David Fuller showed an obvious affection and respect for Kaufman's now painfully dated satire, and despite the script's one-note quality managed to find a number of touching moments. Barbara Brandt's lively choreography was the high point of many of the musical numbers, showcasing the cast's talented dancers.

The plot revolves around the wedding of wealthy young Park Avenue sophisticate Madge Bennett (Jennifer Stafford) to simple, upstanding young Southerner Ned Scott (Luke Walrath) at the Long Island summer home of Madge's mother Sybil (Judith Jarosz) and Sybil's fourth husband Odgen (Eric Bettelheim). The wedding guests include all the previous spouses of the Bennetts with their current spouses, many of whom were once wed to other members of this extended family. Poor Ned is appalled at the cavalier attitudes of his new acquaintances, and fearing a similar life for Madge and himself, is ready to flee. Fortunately a complicated chain of events convinces him that his future with Madge is for keeps.

Judith Jarosz did a star turn as the oft-married Sybil. Glamorous in her period costumes, Jarosz's lovely singing and wicked sense of humor were the centerpiece of the production. Eric Bettelheim was a gin-soaked delight as Sybil's husband Ogden. He displayed a beautiful tenor voice, which added interest to Ogden's shallow character. Luke Walrath sang and danced with charm and flair as Ned, his light tenor voice ideal for the character. Jennifer Stafford was an adorable Madge, but her nasal speech and singing detracted from an otherwise excellent performance.

Steve Aron's sonorous baritone voice gave a Ruddygoresque quality to his fine performance as the Bennett's butler, MacArthur. Although Richard Bowen had a fine voice, he was miscast in the role of Mr. Meachum, the "white shoe" law firm retainer of the Bennetts and their wealthy cronies. Christine Fenno was a knockout as the sexy, wisecracking Betty, the current wife of Madge's father Richard (Bill Walters in a wryly humorous performance.) Shira Flam balanced the ladylike side of Elsa with a comedic flair, and Cristiane Young as Myra treated the audience to the sound of an almost extinct species--a real contralto.

Glenn White, Timothy Scott Bennett, Patti McClure, Kathryn Strock, Trevor Richardson, Samuel Bruce Campbell,and Campbell Bridges were all talented singer-dancers whose work added a great deal to the production.

Marisa Timperman's glorious costumes and simple but attractive set were flattering lit by Douglas Filomena.
Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Performance: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 1999 Julie Halpern