fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,

The Happy Time

This afternoon I went to see The Happy Time at the Signature Theatre. This is the 2nd of 3 productions in their Kander & Ebb series and buying the subscription was, indeed, an excellent idea based on the first two.

What most people know about this musical is that it was the first one to lose a million dollars. There's a lot of debate about why, with the usual blame being placed on the book. I'll note, though, that it's traditional to blame the book for any failed musical. I was a bit too young to see the original on Broadway but I'd guess that Gower Champion was the wrong person to stage it. I understand it had a full orchestra and a cast of 45. Seeing the Signature production, with a cast of 17 and a three piece orchestra (piano, bass and drums), it's hard to imagine it as a spectacle. As an intimate, bittersweet musical, it functions well.

For those unfamiliar with it, the basic plot involves the return of a wordly photographer, Jacques, to visit his family in a small town in Canada. He takes it on himself to influence his young nephew, who is going through the pangs of adolescence, despite his brother's prim objections. There's also a revived romance with his old sweetheart (now widowed). And lots of fighting with the rest of his family.

The score is lovely (which I knew already). The title song is misleading, as the story twists in a way that is anything but happy. "Tomorrow Morning" is eminently hummable and I'd be hard pressed to get it out of my head, even if I wanted to. Other notable musical numbers include "St. Pierre," "I Don't Remember You," "(Walking) Among My Yesterdays" and "A Certain Girl." The latter could be done as a production number, I suppose, but it worked very nicely with just the three generations of the family.

By the way, the version used here was based primarily on the 1980-ish Goodspeed revival, which added back a few songs that had been cut on Broadway. I'm not sure that "Jeanne Marie" added anything and, while I understand why "In His Own Good Time" and "I'm Sorry" were restored, neither was truly essential.

The one real flaw (which is a problem in the book) is that one brother (Louis) is somewhat superfluous. He and his wife provide a few comic touches, but it's never clear what his back story is. He uses a wheelchair and drinks - but that's never explained and he's really little more than another target for Grandpere.

That's a nit, however, and the beautiful score and superb performances made me glad I'd gone. Michael Minarik was excellent in the demanding role of Jacques. Jace Casey played the young nephew, Bibi, without giving in to the many excesses that child actors are prone to. And David Margulies clearly enjoys the scene-stealing role of Grandpere.

This isn't a big splashy spectacle, but a small, intimate musical. It seems like the original production lost sight of that. This revival should help restore its reputation.
Tags: musicals

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