The Maltz Jupiter Theatre celebrates it's 1st year anniversary with the opening of Studs Terkel's The Good War. And, in the words of Managing Director Peter Croken, "a birthday is more than merely an annual event, it is the celebration of a rebirth". After unkind reviews of its last two productions, the Maltz Jupiter Theatre indeed seems poised for a rebirth. The theatre has undergone financial restructuring, and the board of directors has removed Todd Price as Artistic Director as it seeks its rightful place in South Florida's theatrical community. With this in mind, the timing of the opening of this show could not have been better.
The Good War was originally produced by Northlight Theatre and received the Selma Melvoin Playwriting Award. The strength of this piece is the Pulitzer Prize winning original novel by journalist and reporter Studs Terkel. The Good War is a collection of stories, taken from real life American men and women, and of their reminiscences of WWII and how it shaped their lives. The Chicago based Terkel interviewed some 121 veterans and their families in compiling this compelling wartime Spoon River Anthology. Can any war be a good war? Though we continue to honor the individual men and women who serve our country in battle, WWII is possibly the last time that Americans agreed that the battle itself may be honorable. It was a time when our being at war overseas united us here at home, and participation in the wartime effort applied to everyone. WWII is remembered and romanticized by movies and music, and yet was recent enough for most us to have family members who experienced it first hand still with us. It is sure to tug at one's heart strings. And this musical adaptation by David H. Bell and Craig Carnelia does just that.
The show features previously written music of the time period interwoven with the stories. All of the songs are recognizable but are not the pat tunes most identified with WWII, as an attempt is made to marry the songs to the stories. However, the piece can not truly be called a musical. Musicals by definition are plays whose songs serve to further the plot and/or give character development. As this is a montage of stories and the actors play multiple characters, it is really a play with music. The flow of the stories and songs have but one or two uneven transitions (such as going into the ball game scene). The musical arrangements are a little too simplified for my taste, and use too much unison singing. The best musical moments, such as "Comin' In On a Wing and a Prayer," make full use of the hearty male voices singing harmony, leaving the audience electrified and wanting more. Obviously the big band sound of the period can not be achieved by a combo, but the lush, tight harmony voicing can. And it should be more present, especially in an ensemble cast show such as this.
The utilitarian single set and military costumes and props are a well executed framework for the show, though some creative lighting opportunities were missed. The eight men and one woman in the cast are clean and tight as they act out moments from personal wartime histories - both comedic and dramatic. From the clearly belted solo in "Comin' In On a Wing and a Prayer," to the beautifully sung "This Is Worth Fighting For," and the touching duet "Dear Mom / Gutte Nacht Mutter," this is a show worth seeing. Bring your family, and for those of you who lived through the real "good war" - bring your handkerchief.
The Good War runs through March 20th at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, located at 1001 Indiantown Rd and A1A in Jupiter, FL. Show times are Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday 8 pm, and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinee at 2 pm. Tickets can be purchased at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre Box Office, on line at www.jupitertheatre.org, or by phone at 561/ 575-3332 or 800/ 445-1666. The Maltz Jupiter Theatre is a 550-seat, nonprofit community-based Equity regional theatre belonging to the League of Resident Theatres.
*Denotes member of Actor's Equity Association