Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Lovely Production of
My first experience with Enter the Guardsman was the opening night of the musical at the Donmar in London on September 17, 1997. There in that small space of a theater surrounded on three sides by audience, I fell in love with this gem of a musical. Unfortunately the London critics gave it mixed reviews and it closed on October 17, 1997. I had asked if there were any plans for the musical to be recorded and the answer was an emphatic "NO." I had also hoped the musical would somehow get to the States. Enter the Guardsman finally reached our shores and played Off-Broadway in New York, and has since played in regional theaters throughout the land. It still has not been recorded, unfortunately. Where the Donmar production was on a small stage with little scenery, the San Jose Rep had a full scale production of this melodic comedy/drama. Also, the composer himself was personally involved; he lives in nearby Los Gatos.
The musical is based on the 1911 play The Guardsman by Ferenc Molnar. The lead characters are a leading actress and her co-star husband of the Vienna stage. They are used to role playing but their marriage of six months is starting to lose its spark. The once vibrant partnership seems to be threatened. The actress is very beautiful and has many admirers, and the husband is convinced that she will seek pleasure elsewhere.
The actress starts receiving roses from a secret admirer. Each day more and more roses arrive until the room is full of roses. We find out the secret admirer turns out to be the husband since he wants to test the loyalty of the wife. To further find out if she is faithful, he takes on the disguise of a mustached Austrian guardsman with a heavy Austrian accent. The husband said he is leaving Vienna for several days to play Hamlet in the provinces and when he leaves, enter the guardsman. The Guardsman sweeps the lovely actress off of her feet but both are now forced to confront the truths of their relationship. I won't disclose the ending but it is up to the audience to determine if the wife knew of the masquerade.
The production is tuneful, poignant and charming, with clever lyrics by Marion Adler and a book by Scott Wentworth. There is a little bit of Sondheim in the lyrics of Adler, and the melodies of Bohmler are enchanting. His tunes are alternately sprightly and lush. There are some rousing songs such as "Enter the Guardsman" and some lovely songs like "Waiting in the Wings" and "My One Great Love". "Chopin" sounds like it came from the pen of Lerner and Lowe.
The characters in the production have no names and so they use generic terms. David Ledingham plays the loyal, decent and confused husband whose cruel fate it is to become jealous of himself. He has a winning voice and he threw himself into the screwball machinations of the guardsman. Sometimes he sounded like Richard Burton, particularly in the song, "Chopin."
Susan Hanson is marvelous as the actress. She has a sly, teasing sensual way with a song. She is sassy and sexy all at the same time. Ms. Hanson has a well trained voice. She has appeared as one of the singers in Master Class with Faye Dunaway on tour. Peter Van Norden played the dapper playwright. He sweeps into the action and keeps the play moving with his wit. He also sings the wonderful sing/talk song "They Die" with great gusto.
Meg Mackay, as the actress's devoted dresser, was wonderful in the small but pivotal role. She lights up the stage in the second act when she sings the most memorable song of the evening, "Waiting in the Wings". It is a lovely song that she sings hauntingly. The rest of the small cast, Army McAlexander, Laurent Giroux and Colin Thomson, were all fine their roles.
The sets and lighting were excellent. I particularly liked the wheeled in sets of his and her dressing rooms that reminded me of the sets for Kiss Me Kate. The costumes were gorgeous and the direction by Lillian Garrett-Groag was superb. This was a perfect little chamber-like musical. A real euphonious gem. It closed on January 14.
San Jose Rep's next production will be Aliens in America, a sharply funny one-woman show performed by public radio commentator, humorist and fiction writer, Sandra Tsing Lou. It's set to run from February 3 to March 4, 2001.
Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area