Director James Brennan is at the controls for this riotous flight of fancy and is joined by a highly trained crew of Broadway veterans, a six-pack of superior quality that will quench the passengers' thirst for frothy summer entertainment. The Cape Playhouse has been at this for eighty-four seasons and they know what they're doing. Consider the caliber and resumés of this cast, starting with the names above the title: Hunter Foster will be returning to Broadway's Million Dollar Quartet, and counts Urinetown, Little Shop of Horrors and The Producers among his starring roles. He has been nominated for Outer Critics Circle, Tony, and Drama Desk awards, and has written the books of several musicals, including Summer of '42. John Scherer can be deemed an honorary resident of Dennis as he makes his seventh appearance on this stage. He most recently performed on Broadway in Lovemusik, directed by Harold Prince, and is no stranger to Off-Broadway and national tours of major musicals.
Boeing Boeing has a storied past, launching as a big hit in London in 1962 where it ran for seven years, but bombing as a big flop in New York, closing after only 23 performances in 1965. In the same year, it was made into a movie starring Tony Curtis, Jerry Lewis and Thelma Ritter. Fast forward to 2008, when the Matthew Warchus-directed revival ran for a respectable 279 performances, winning the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play, honoring Mark Rylance for Best Actor in a Play and garnering four other nominations. Who can say why it took off in the West End, but not New York in the '60s, or why it pleased American audiences forty years later? What I can tell you is that this production is really funny and soars on the strength of good writing, solid directing and impeccable timing by actors who know how to execute physical comedy.
The plot of Boeing Boeing is totally politically incorrect in this day and age, but serves as a nostalgic reminder of the way things used to be, and tells a simple story filled with complications that are ripe with humor. Bernard (Foster) is an American architect living in Paris in a luxury apartment that he shares with his housekeeper Berthe (Kathel Carlson) and his three fiancées, Gloria, Gabriella and Gretchen. Before you get any ideas about a ménage à quatre, the three young women are all air hostesses (a quaint term for flight attendant) who fly on different schedules and each is generally able to spend only two days in a row with Bernard. He maintains a notebook with their timetables and, with the assistance of long-suffering Berthe (who makes you anticipate and look forward to her every entrance), juggles their comings and goings, as well as their gastronomic preferences. It all runs smoothly until his old friend Robert (Scherer) arrives for a visit, and schedule changes, flight delays and the new turbo-charged Boeing aircraft create unforeseen complications. The resulting pandemonium in the plot is carried out with Swiss-like precision on the playhouse stage.
Robert is nonplussed by his friend's multiple engagements, but Bernard explains that it is the ideal arrangement. He never intends to marry any of them, and gets the benefits of three distinctly different types of women. Gloria (Heather Parcells) is an American princess, Gabriella (Jennifer Cody) is an Italian firecracker and Gretchen (Cady Huffman) is an intense German. Hoping to find romance and a wife for himself in Paris, Robert observes and learns. Scherer makes his character's transformation from nervous neophyte to Bernard's accomplice a theatrical treat to watch. He starts out as a jittery, dazed guy from Wisconsin, but ends up participating in a ruse to distract the girlfriends from the truth of the situation and getting what he came for.
Parcells, Cody and Huffman portray stereotypical characters, but they infuse them with humanity and hilarity. Gloria is husband-hunting and enamored with the glamour of Bernard's life. At first, Parcells portrays her broadly, with a spot-on, annoying New York whine, but digs deeper to bring out her inner smart cookie and latent kinkiness. Cody's diminutive stature and energy contribute to her humorous take on the fiery Gabriella who is full of vim and vigor, and won't be anybody's fool. Cody has a priceless look of awareness that comes over her face when Gabriella is suspicious or figuring something out. Showing her flair for foreign accents, Huffman's clipped speech clearly lets you know that Gretchen flies with Lufthansa, and she uses her long-legged physique and exaggerated gestures to convey the German's larger than life persona. In the second act after a dinner heavy on the sauerkraut, when Robert is, shall we say "intestinally-challenged," Huffman also treated the matinee audience to a rare sight when she lost it during the repercussions, but she eventually regrouped, further winning the hearts of the locals.
The unit set by Richard Chambers has the obligatory multiple doors and staircases for an effective farce, but also has appropriate décor and appointments to indicate the luxurious lifestyle of its occupant. Gail Baldoni has created evocative uniforms for the jet-setters in vivid, attention-grabbing colors which make them stand out against the subdued tones of Bernard's pad and the men's suits. Lighting design by Christopher S. Chambers tends to be on the bright side, as if to further challenge Bernard to keep his women hidden from one another.
If I may take one final liberty with an airline metaphor, let me recommend that you end your summer vacation with a reservation for the high-flying ride on Boeing Boeingit's just the ticket!
Boeing Boeing, performances through September 4 at Cape Playhouse, Cape Cod Center for the Arts, Dennis, Massachusetts. Box Office 508-385-3911 or www.capeplayhouse.com
Written by Marc Camoletti, Adapted by Beverley Cross; Directed by James Brennan; Scenic Design, Richard Chambers; Costume Design, Gail Baldoni; Lighting Design, Christopher S. Chambers; Sound Design, Joshua Staines; Resident Stage Manager, Ginger M. James; Advance Stage Manager, Jerry Dee Lame
Cast: Hunter Foster, Bernard; John Scherer, Robert; Kathel Carlson, Berthe; Jennifer Cody, Gabriella; Cady Huffman, Gretchen; Heather Parcells, Gloria