Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Happy Time
The book by N. Richard Nash bears only a slight resemblance to the 1950 play of the same title by Samuel Taylor because the focus is different: the play concerns the Bonnard family as a whole, while Nash builds up the role of the prodigal Jacques Bonnard (Michael Minarik, in a role that won Robert Goulet a Tony Award), a footloose photographer who comes to visit his family in the town of St. Pierre. Jacques' teenaged nephew Bibi (Jace Casey, in the role that brought 15-year-old Michael Rupert to Broadway) craves more excitement than he can get at home with a hard-working father (George Dvorsky) and mother (Tracy Lynn Olivera), and idealizes Jacques. Overseeing the family is Grandpere Bonnard (David Margulies), a curmudgeon on the surface with a weakness for pretty young women.
"I take pictures of the world," Jacques tells the audience, and thanks to Todd Edward Ivins' clever scenic and projection design his photos appear on the back wall of the set as he "takes" them. The effect is lovely, and helps to draw in the audience even more.
Unfortunately, many of the characters are sketchy, with little interior life. Bibi's father, Philippe, conducts the orchestra at the local vaudeville theater but refuses to let the boy attend the show. Suzanne, Bibi's no-nonsense mother, keeps the household running. Philippe and Jacques have another brother, Louis (Rob McQuay), who mostly drinks wine, accepts the criticisms of his sharp-tongued wife Felice (Amy McWilliams), and dotes on his three young daughters. Laurie (Carrie A. Johnson), the woman Jacques left behind in St. Pierre, has settled into life as a schoolteacher. And how many of the stories Jacques tells about his glamorous life are true?
Despite the weaknesses, Kander and Ebb knew how to write a score, and it bubbles along with credible performances by the cast. Margulies, an old pro, gets the juiciest numbers and makes the most of them. Minarik and Casey are well matched, and Johnson does well with the little she has to do.