Regional Reviews: San Francisco
An Enchanting Production of
I first saw this musical during February of 1955 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre when my friend Morton de Costa invited me to see a new young singer named Barbara Cook. The unusual musical about an Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, also starred Richard Derr (who later became an actor in many "B" films) as Dan, Gloria Marlowe as Katie, David Daniels as Peter and Shirl Conway as Ruth. A month later, Plain and Fancy moved to the Winter Garden to make room for Ankles Aweigh (which closed after 175 performances and Plain and Fancy moved back to the Mark Hellinger). Plain and Fancy ran a total of 461 performances. It made all of the money back for its backers in the first nine months. Theatre World awards were given to performers Barbara Cook, Shirl Conway and David Daniels. Bea Arthur understudied Conway, and Carol Lawrence was among the chorus members.
Plain and Fancy had a road tour with Alexis Smith and Craig Stevens, and Barbara Cook reprising her role only for the Los Angeles and San Francisco engagements (she left the company here to star in Candide). London's West End saw the show at the prestigious Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1956 where it ran for 315 performances with Richard Derr and Shirl Conway reprising their roles.
The musical is rarely performed, and exception being the Round Barn Theatre in Nappanee, Indiana, where it has been performed every summer for twenty years as part of their repertory program. Round Barn has performed the musical over 3000 times before 258,000 patrons. The York Theatre in New York did a "Mufti Concert" last year with Cady Huffman, Jack Noseworthy and theatre comic legend Charlotte Rae.
Plain and Fancy is a serious musical written in the Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition that was popular in the 1950s. One critic called it "the best Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that Rodgers and Hammerstein never wrote." The plot focuses on New York City sophisticates Dan King (Bill Olson) and Ruth Winters (Amy Louise Cole) who travel to Bird-in-Hand in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Dan is going to sell a piece of property that he inherited from his uncle to stern Jacob Yoder (Mark Cornelius), who intends to present it to his daughter Katie (Alexandra Kaprielian) as a wedding gift. Katie is to marry Ezra Reber (Tony Panighetti), a boring Amish farmer who just wants a wife to do all of the woman's work that is required in this strict religious community. Katie, however, loves Ezra's younger banished brother Peter (Darrin Glesser), who is considered a rebel because he gets into fights. The lovely side plot concerns innocent farm girl Hilda Miller (Brandy Collazo) falling for the worldly Dan.
Albert Hague's melodies are enchanting, and the lyrics by Arnold Horwitt and his co-writer Will Glickman are poetical. The most famous song, "Young and Foolish," is beautifully sung by Alexandra Kaprielian and Darrin Glesser. There are rousing melodies and lyrics typical of the 1950s musicals for such songs as "Plenty of Pennsylvania" and the standard comic song, "It's a Helluva Way to Run a Love Affair," sung with great comic style by Amy Louise Cole. There is even a paean to the Amish style of living called "Plain We Live," sung impressively by Mark Cornelius.
Director Bobby Weinapple has assembled a sterling cast of singers and actors to perform this alluring musical. Alexandra Kaprielian (Beauty and Beast and Ragtime at Woodminster) gives a delightful performance as Katie, who is not happy marrying Ezra, played by Tony Panighetti (his third show for the company including Pardon my English). Panighetti is hilarious as the boorish farmer, especially in the drunk scene at the county fair when Ezra thinks he is drinking a potent drink made from vegetables (Ruth, who likes her scotch, tells him "it's from old vegetables" in a great scene).
Brandy Collazo (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Urinetown) almost steals the show playing Barbara Cook's role of Hilda Miller. She has a wonderful mellifluous voice in "This is All Very New to Me" and "I'll Show Him." Darrin Glesser (Flora the Red Menace, tick, tick ... boom!) is engaging as the hot-tempered Peter with a ranging voice, especially in "Young and Foolish."
Mark Cornelius (Seussical the Musical, Little Women, Quadrille at the Crossroads), who plays the snippy Papa Yoder, has a glorious bass baritone voice in both singing and speaking. Bill Olson (many regional theatre productions, including NCTC, Marin Shakespeare) is excellent as the perplexed Dan. Amy Louise Cole (tap dancing Lottie in Mack & Mabel plus Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) is riotous in the Eve Arden type role of Ruth. She is a cross between Bette Midler and Nancy Walker in both the verbal and physical departments.
Vince Faso, Chris Macomber, Grant "Buzz" Halsing, Lua Hadar, Dan Bernstein, Samantha Harris Bartholomew, Tom Orr and Kathleen Dederian are all first-rate, with great vocal skills, as members of the religious community. The choral work is lovely. Particularly outstanding is Chris Macomber, who gets deep into every role at the 42nd Street Moon. She was with the Lamplighters for many years, and is always a great asset to this company in both acting and singing.
Director Bobby Weinapple keeps the action moving swiftly, and once again David Dobrusky gives solid support on the piano. Costumes by Amy Louise Cole are authentic Amish outfits. Choreographer Staci Arriaga does an excellent dance piece on the small stage during the carnival scene, with Samantha Bartholomew and Katie Dederian shaking their tuchis as carnival floozies while Tom Orr does a good portrayal of a sleazy carnival barker. The choreography of some of the dances of the Amish and the wedding scene is beautifully accomplished.
Plain and Fancy played at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco through April 1. For tickets please call 415-255-8207 or on their web site at www.42ndstmoon.org. Their last production of the season will be Cole Porter's 1933 musical Gay Divorce opening on April 12 and running through May 6th.