Girl of My Dreams at Village Theatre
David DeBoy's Girl of My Dreams script is a rarity in that it is an original - not based on any book, movie, or stage play. Still, there is a certain likable cozy familiarity to it, as it is inspired by his own Granddad's memories of going from gangly soldier to USO performer, and meeting the girl of his dreams in that process. Deboy's storytelling starts with an emphasis on humor, and the guys and girls of the USO troupe go through some predictable but pleasant stateside adventures before going abroad to entertain the troops, where the story turns darker and more harsh realities are touched on. Mixed-race and mixed-religioun romantic relationships, the trauma of battlefield experiences on GIs, and the perils of performing for the troops at the peril of your own well being are touched on. The fact that we know that Granddad was the gangly and awkward GI Freddy lets us rest assured that this character makes it back in one piece. In fact, only one pivotal character doesn't make it out of WWII alive, and the character's demise ties rather neatly into the story resolution. For my tastes, at least, I'd have been fine with fewer flashbacks or at least purely voiceovers, in that Village Theatre stalwart Hugh Hastings, engaging as he is as Granddad, has to play virtually every other mature male character in the story, with only intermittent success.
The Ekstrom/Hayes songs within the USO performance numbers tend to be more successful than the character-driven numbers. The dramatic duet "A Nice Home" in act two particularly rang in my head as a number that seemed to have wandered in from a different kind of show. Cutting portions of certain numbers down a bit would keep the show under the two and a half hours it clocked in at on opening night, but generally the genial score is a pleasure and Ekstrom's melodies leave a lingering hummability in your head as you leave the theatre.
As Freddy Gillette, Eric Ankrim is breezily engaging and has an easy way with all of his songs, whether they be comic or romantic. Taryn Darr finds some real dimension and character shadings as Liz Dodson (she also plays Laurie in the modern scenes), the Hollywood starlet whom Freddy gets smitten with, though she seems also to have eyes for the more chiseled charms of hard-drinking, troubled Hollywood action star Luke Wheeler, portrayed with a palpable mixture of swagger and melancholy by David Jon Wilson. Mariah Anne Taylor totally lights up the stage as small-town cutie Cindy Hawthorne, torn between her family's bigotry toward Jews while being drawn into a relationship with Jewish songwriter/lead performer Phil Gold, deftly played by Joshua Bott looking like a pureed blend of a young Lawrence Welk and Glenn Miller. Chris Clay is tops in all his dance moves as African American hoofer Ben Piper, who develops a slow but steady relationship with the troupe's most sophisticated, raffish and wisecracking dame Effie Lawrence, brassily enacted by Kathryn Van Meter who ineffably channels Martha Raye, Eve Arden and Ann Miller simultaneously. As mentioned earlier, Hugh Hastings is a lovable Granddad, and he scores comic points as an aggravating old southern senator with a convenient hearing disability.
Standout musical numbers in the show are the title number, the engagingly tuneful Irving Berlin-ish "How Lucky Can a Person Hope to Be?," the wistful "Wonderful Memories of You," the show's comic standout number "When It's Over There in Dover" (which is a perfectly plotted take on the vintage "Roll Me Over, In the Clover"), and Phil's "Nocturne Lullaby" (set to Chopin's Nocturne to great effect). Another really catchy song for the whole cast is "We've Got a Lot in Common." Numbers like "Pin-Up Girls" and "Coffee and Donuts" allow Tomkins' choreographic skills free reign, as does the tap solo "Look at Me, I'm Really Swingin" for Clay, and Tomkins really has fun with his staging of the plot number "Hunky-Dory" with the whole cast staggering through a turbulent airplane ride. Musical director Tim Symon achieves good balance between the cast and the small but sensational pit orchestra, and does the ear-pleasing score full justice.
Carey Wong's fluid and colorful scenic design nails the era of the show, as do Deane Middleton's wonderfully kitschy costumes. Alex Berry's lighting design is right on the mark.
Whatever the ultimate fate of the genial, gentle Girl of My Dreams, I'd bet on it being one of the Vilage's biggest cash cows this season, and quite possibly with audiences in other cities where a musical doesn't have to be a pre-sold commodity to be a hit.
Girl of My Dreams runs through April 23 at Village Theatre, 303 Front Street North in Issaquah, then moves to the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Avenue in Everett, April 28-May 14. For more information, visit www.villagetheatre.org.