A Connecticut Yankee
The 42nd Street Moon Company went all out for the concert version of Rodgers and Hart’s AConnecticut Yankee. Artistic Directors Greg MacKellan and Stephanie Rhodes put a large orchestra under the direction of Aaron Gandy on the stage, hired Broadway star Davis Gaines to play the lead, surrounded Gaines with the best talent in the Bay Area and even put the major characters into King Arthur’s costumes. The company presented the musical in the Herbst Theatre. Unfortunately the musical was presented for only five performances only, ending on August 25.
This Rodgers and Hart musical was first presented at the Vanderbilt Theatre in New York in 1927 where it ran for 418 performances. I saw the revival during the Christmas season in 1943 at the Martin Beck Theatre with Vivienne Segal, Dick Foran and a young Vera-Ellen. The revival ran only 135 performances. There was a television version on one of the NBC color spectaculars on December 3, 1955, that starred Eddie Albert, Janet Blaire and Boris Karloff. MGM used a scene from the musical in the film Words and Music with June Allyson and Blackburn Twins singing “Thou Swell.” The New York City Encores! presented a concert version last year with Steven Sutcliffe, Judy Blazer, Henry Gibson and Peter Bartlett.
Rodgers and Hart wrote more potent musicals, like Pal Joey, Babes in Arms and On Your Toes, that are revived often in this country while A Connecticut Yankee is rarely presented. The main reason is not a lack of wonderful songs, but a creaky and lengthy book. The story starts out slowly with Martin, who is a young Connecticut businessman undecided about who to marry, on his wedding day. He is torn between his true love Alice and his strong minded fiancée Fay whom he does not love. In a jealous fit, Fay hits Martin over the head and voila, he wakes up in Merry Ole England during King Arthur’s time.
Since Martin is an English history scholar, he knows all about the goings on of the famed king, and soon he is Arthur’s right hand man. He is dubbed Sir Boss. Most of the dialogue is very reminiscent of the early '40s and Martin talks in the jive style that was popular with the wartime crowd. However, forget about the book and just listen to the glorious melodies and lyrics in this production. Many of the songs are now standards like “Thou Swell.” “My Heart Stood Still” and one of the great comedy songs of all time “To Keep My Love Alive.”
The star of this production was the fabulous Davis Gaines. His sustained crescendos on “My Heart Stood Still” were masterful. His duet with Stephanie Rhodes in “Thou Swell” showed off his rich baritone voice. Gaines had a wonderful relaxed attitude about him throughout Yankee and it looked like he was really having fun onstage. Ms. Rhodes as Sandy held her own in both of these numbers. She had the purest, sweetest voice in the show.
Lesley Hamilton played the evil Morgan LeFay in the Camelot sequences. She seemed a little nervous at first, but she reached her peak when she brought down the house with “To Keep My Love Alive.” She trilled every murder method with flawless comic timing. She had great vocal technique when she sang “Can’t You Do a Friend a Favor?” One of the best moments of the production occurred in the second act when Bill Fahrner as King Arthur joined Gaines in the beautiful duet “You Always Love the Same Girl.” Fahrner matched his dynamic voice with Gaines and both sounded great. Melina Kalomas was Evelyn and she put life into the show as a dancer and minor comedienne. Her partner Galahad played by Aaron Wimmer was a little weak in the role but finally found his great voice in the second act with “I Feel at Home with You.” His singing was much better then his dancing.
The chorus was outstanding; director Greg MacKellan and choreographer Jayne Zaban found the best singing and dancing chorus in the Bay Area. There were two very long dance numbers in the second act that probably went on a touch too long. However, they were part of the 1943 revival. Aaron Gandy and his orchestra made every song a great treat. It was a great entertaining evening.
A Connecticut Yankee closed on August 25. The company’s next production is Rodgers and Hart’s Peggy-Ann, opening at the Eureka Theatre on October 30. For tickets call 415-255-8207 or visit www.42ndStMoon.org.