It was a sweet summer reunion recently at The York Theatre Company at St. Peter's Church. The musical Summer Of '42 had its first public reading there in 1999 (you remember the 20th century, don't you?). On Monday, May 23, the show came home to the theatre for a one-night-only benefit concert, with the authors present as well as many former cast members.
There was nostalgia on top of nostalgia, as the show is set (of course) in 1942 and is very evocative of that era, with the leading female character being a young woman whose husband has just gone off to war. That character, at this York benefit, was played by Rachel York. In a regional production of this show, she met the man in her life, Ayal Miodovnik, who joined her in the concert as the aforementioned husband. Another emotional layer in this very emotional coming-of-age show was the reunion of the actors playing the teenagers, as a few years can be a major chunk of time in a very young actor's life. Being several years further away from the characters they were portraying, the accompanying changing of perspective must have been an interesting mindset for them. Ryan Driscoll, returning to the lead role of teenager Hermie, was in the piece at Goodspeed Opera House, the 2001 Off-Broadway run, and in San Francisco. As his two pals, Joe Gallagher and Brett Tabisel were back as, respectively, the nerd and the hormone-raging loudmouth. It was a happy reunion for all concerned. The three girls who date the boys were played by Danielle Ferland (currently in She Stoops To Conquer) and two who'd done the show in New York: Megan Valerie Walker and Celia Keenan-Bolger, one of the stars of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The three young women also appear singing a few delightful 1940s Andrews Sisters-type pastiche numbers during the show, adding to the period flavor. Also creating that texture was Bill Buell as Walter Winchell, who also doubles as the chatty shopkeeper.
The story of growing up (or trying to) and falling in love (or falling in lust) is full of tenderness and humor. I fondly remember seeing it a couple of times at the Variety Arts Theatre in Greenwich Village and had always wished there'd been a cast album of the score. There was none, despite later productions around the country. The good news is that this cast went into the studio the next morning and recorded the show at last. It will be a 2-CD set on JAY Records, produced by John Yap (who also just recorded Rachel York for the cast album of Dessa Rose). So, you'll get all the very funny dialogue written by Hunter Foster as well as the music and lyrics of David Kirshenbaum. I was standing next to the enthusiastic Mr. Yap as the capacity crowd waited for the doors to open, and he mentioned that he is including a song that had been cut from the score, too. His excitement was obvious before, during and after. The writers were beaming during the show as well, and an appreciative and mixed audience was both happy and a bit teary at times. Two rows were filled with the theatre company's new teaching program in collaboration with Marymount College.
Summer Of '42 is set on an island in Maine and is based on the novel and screenplay of the same-named film by Herman Raucher. If you've missed it in its various incarnations, you can catch up when it comes around again. The program says it's coming to Las Vegas and Florida, and I suspect that the recording capturing this fine cast will get the ball rolling again. A six-piece band at the York sounded glorious, led by Lynne Shankel (Altar Boyz), as she did for the New York and California productions.
Gabriel Barre was the director, and he made a grateful and passionate curtain speech, praising the York Theatre's dedication to new musicals. The York, under the direction of James Morgan, indeed does more productions, readings, and workshops of new musicals - and short-run revivals of lesser-known older musicals - than any theatre in the country. Currently running there are two new musicals: Thrill Me, about the murder "crime of the century" of Leopold and Loeb ... and in a different mood, the new Stephen Schwartz family musical Captain Louie. Their annual gala is coming up June 6. The Lifetime Achievement In Musical Theatre Award this year honors Tony Walton (it will be Tony's Award the night after The Tony Awards, of which he has a collection) and performers will include Chita Rivera and Ben Vereen. For more information, visit www.yorktheatre.org.
Making this revisiting sadder, but also more relevant, was watching the saga of this lonely soldier's wife in a year when we are again (still) hearing day-to-day reports of America at war overseas. Perspective can affect one's experience of a theatre piece, but one thing that hasn't changed is that this is a musical worth seeing and the York Theatre Company with its many new musicals is worth your attention.