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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Enter the Guardsman, at the Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Theater


The prestigious Lamplighters Company is presenting a very nice version of Bohmler and Adler's lovely chamber piece, Enter the Guardsman, at the Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Theatre. We first saw the charming musical on opening night of its world premiere at London's Donmar Theatre, September 17, 1997. Our second viewing was the full stage version of the operetta at the San Jose Repertory Theatre in January 2001 with Craig Bohmler directing the orchestra. Our third viewing was last year at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. That company did a revised version, changing several scenes in the presentation. The Lamplighters production has gone back to the version as produced in London and New York.

Enter the Guardsman is based on the play The Guardsman by Ferenc Molnar, and it follows the play almost to the letter. The Guardsman had also been made in an operetta by Oscar Strauss called The Chocolate Soldier, a sophisticated seven character musical comedy involving the thin line between art, life and artifice.

The plot is diabolically silly with none of the characters having actual names. There are a playwright, an actor, an actress, a dresser, an assistant stage director, a wig master and a wardrobe mistress. The actor feels there is a romantic lull in his six month marriage to the actress and he wants to test her fidelity. He anonymously sends his wife a single rose, then two, then dozens. Needless to say, she is very flattered by this unknown admirer. She had eight affairs prior to the marriage. Does the actor think that there could be an affair No. 9, since his wife expresses interest in this stranger who is sending her favorite flowers to her?

The actor tries one more bold test; he tells his wife that he has been asked to play Hamlet in a provincial town for several nights and he will be away from her during that time. The actor and his playwright friend go into a delightful song called "The Actor's Fantasy," and he decides to become a guardsman. The actor dresses up in an Hungarian uniform, puts on a false beard and hair piece, assumes a faux Hungarian accent, and voila, he becomes the handsome guardsman. The fake soldier asks for a rendezvous with the wife and she replies in the affirmative.

The actress gives in to the affection of the guardsman and, of course, the actor becomes more jealous since he has now seduced his own wife. The actor husband comes back suddenly the next morning and confronts her by telling his wife that he was the guardsman. After a slight pause she tells him that she knew it was him from the kiss, the eyes, and something down under his waist. One wonders at the very end if she really did know it was her husband.

Mike Dederian and Margo Schembre, who are husband and wife in real life, play the vain actor and the urbane wife. Mr. Dederian was a little weak in the opening scenes and the six piece orchestra almost drowned out his voice in the lovely "Chopin"; Marian Adler's lyrics could hardly be heard. However, his voice became stronger as the play progressed and he is excellent as the fake guardsman. Margo Schembre has a lovely voice she is wonderful in the song "My One Great Love."

Jonathan Spencer is outstanding in his portrayal of the playwright. He is very suave in the role. Most of the actors I have seen in this role play it as a Noel Coward character, whereas Jonathan plays it as a stereotypically Hungarian playwright. He is marvelous singing the comedy song, "They Die." Christine Macomber, who was so good as Lady Jane in Patience, plays a rather haughty dresser. Her big song in the second act, "Waiting In the Wings," is good.

The rest of the cast is excellent, although sometimes during the chorus they trip over each other's lines. Unfortunately, the orchestra has no pit and even the six piece orchestra tends to drown out some of Ms. Adler's clever lyrics. The orchestra itself, under the direction of Karl Pister, is very good. The Gershwin Theatre unfortunately is not known for good acoustics and these actors do not use mikes.

The set design by Patrick Kroboth is true to the separate dressing rooms of the actor and actress. All and all it is a nice and charming light musical.

Enter the Guardsman played through April 28. The Lamplighters' next production will be one of Gilbert and Sullivan's greatest hits, The Pirates of Penzance, which opens on August 2 at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco.


Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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