Thursday, October 12, 2000

Theater review

'Summer of '42' fun, light musical

By Joseph McDonough
Enquirer contributor

        The turning of popular movies into stage musicals has been a major theatrical trend over the last 10 years or so. From Disney's Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King to Footloose and Fame, producers have tried to tap into brand-name entertainment with crossover appeal for new theater audiences.

        Summer of '42, which opened Tuesday at the beautiful Victoria Theatre in Dayton, is the latest musical that hopes to make this Hollywood-to-New York transition. While Summer of '42 was originally a novel, it is most widely known for the 1971 film version starring Jennifer O'Neill.

        This new show comes from Connecticut's respected Goodspeed Opera House, that has an established track record (15 Broadway transfers including Annie and Man of La Mancha) for developing musicals. Summer of '42 is being tried out by Dayton's Broadway Series in anticipation of a New York opening. They may have another hit on their hands.

        This production follows the same basic terrain as the movie: While spending a summer at the beach, teen-aged Hermie falls in love with a gorgeous young woman whose husband is gone fighting World War II. Along the way, Hermie and his pals talk a lot about sex and learn a little about life.

        The music and lyrics by David Kirshenbaum are lively and engaging and mostly up tempo. Mr. Kirshenbaum nicely captures a '40s swing mood with many of his songs.

        The humorous book by Hunter Foster evokes a long-ago age of innocence and sexual inexperience. The characters are all endearing and fun, if somewhat predictable.

        The performances by the acting ensemble are solid under Gabriel Barre's energetic direction. Ryan Driscoll as Hermie is both eager and awkward as he woos the woman we know he can never really win.

        Strong-voiced Idina Menzel (a Tony nominee for Rent) sings beautifully in the Jennifer O'Neill role as the sweet and sexy Dorothy.

        Brett Tabisel and Jason Marcus score laughs as Hermie's randy buddy and nerdy friend, respectively. Celia-Keenan-Bolger, Megan Walker and Jeanne Goodman form a spirited musical trio who move the story along. Bill Kux and Cincinnati-native and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music alumni Matt Farnsworth round out the cast in fine supporting roles.

        Summer of '42 was a late Broadway Series replacement for a canceled revival of of The Sound of Music. This new musical is a welcome change and worth the short drive to Dayton.

        Summer of '42, through Oct. 22, Victoria Theatre, First and Main streets, Dayton. (937) 228-7591.


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