Also see Tracy's review of Closer Than Ever
Jerry Herman can certainly be described as a living legend. The composer and lyricist for highly acclaimed musicals such as Mame and Hello, Dolly! has not always hit one out of the park. One of his les successful shows is a sweet musical called Dear World. Dear World, which is currently being produced by the American Century Theater, takes its source material from Giraudoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot. The story follows the “madwoman” Countess Aurelia as she tries to save humanity from the evil in the world.
It is a charming concept and Herman’s music, although not as strong as some of his other work, brings forth a lovely warmhearted feel to the piece that manages to be poignant at times, such as in the song “Kiss Her Now.” Herman has also added some fun pieces that help to define the characters. “Just A Little Bit More” is just one example of a song that emphasizes the intentions of the characters that sing it and entertains at the same time.
American Century Theater is quite ambitious in mounting this production. Gunston Theater II is their venue for this show and it is a rather small space. Unfortunately, at times the space does seem a bit tight for this good-sized cast. However, director, John Moran manages to pull it off and there are only one or two scenes where the stage seems overcrowded.
The cast is made up of some fine performers – most notably Ilona Dulaski and Steven Cupo. Washington audiences may recognize these two talented performers from their stint in Signature Theatre’s production of Follies. As the unstoppable Countess Aurelia, Ilona Dulaski is a perfect fit. She shows the ability to transform from eccentric character to maternal protector to girlish romantic with ease. Hers is truly an outstanding performance.
As the sewerman, Mr. Cupo is just as enjoyable to watch. He delivers a nuanced performance that portrays the character as humble yet strong. Cupo is joined by an able cast that includes Lisa Carrier as Nina and Michael Hadary as Julian. Both give terrific performances, but their most successful moments are those times they share the stage with Ms. Dulaski.
The Countess’s fellow madwomen are played by Jacqueline Manger (the Madwoman of the Flea Market) and Liz Weber (the Madwoman of Montmartre). Both are incredibly funny and energetic. It is obvious that these two have completely embraced their characters.
Of course, the villains cannot be forgotten. They are played wonderfully by Joe Cronin (Prospector), Kim-Scott Miller (President) and John C. Bailey (Lawyer). The three make up a delightfully wicked team. Cronin is especially magnetic as the wily prospector.
The set designed by John Story is minimal with an impressionist-like painting on the floor that fills the intimate space well. The lighting created by Ayun Fedorcha is very effective and the whole look of the piece is pulled together by Pam McFarlane’s costume designs. She has truly captured the essence of these characters and adorned them appropriately.
Dear World if far from being a loud and splashy mega-musical, and sometimes that is a good thing. In the end, it is a vibrant piece of work that merits many more incarnations. Dear World runs through August 9th.
American Century Theater
Nina: Lisa Carrier