Following a summer 2000 run at Goodspeed-at-Chester/The Norma Terris Theatre in Connecticut and a midwest premiere at the Victoria Theatre in Dayton, OH (Oct. 10-22, 2000), creative and production staffers for Summer of '42 took a few weeks off, but after the new year, they regrouped and chose the next step for the nostalgic musical.
The show is now getting a mounting at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, CA, (June 20-July 15, officially opening June 23) followed by a mini-tour going from Stamford, CT to Boston, MA, and, if all bodes well, Broadway in spring 2002. In May, composer-lyricist David Kirshenbaum informed Playbill On-Line that Mitchell Maxwell (of Momentum Productions) signed on as lead producer for the show. The latter has recently caused rumbles in the theatre community, owing to reports of money troubles and bounced checks towards the end of the run of Momentum's flop Broadway revival of Bells Are Ringing.
Production spokespersons at the Barlow-Hartman office (which no longer reps Summer) had told PBOL May 1 that after Summer of `42 plays Palo Alto, June 19-July 15, mini-tour dates would follow at CT's Stamford Center for the Arts: Oct. 10-20 and Boston, MA's Colonial Theatre: Nov. 13-Dec. 2. Those dates and venues may change somewhat, but the plan, producer Maxwell told PBOL (June 22), is to definitely come into New York this season.
Answering lingering questions about the Bells Are Ringing money troubles, Maxwell said, "The issue that made the paper, about certain payroll checks being bounced, was unfairly reported. The company was issued new checks, and all the bonded people — in the theatrical and other unions — have been paid in full. The load-out has happened and been paid. There are 8-to-10 vendors [of equiment and other services] that are still owed money, but we're making arrangements over the next two-to-four weeks to pay them off as well."
Despite the unpleasant ring left by Bells' finale, Maxwell says he's not finished with the tuner. "We're hoping to do a tour in September 2002," he told PBOL, though star Faith Prince may not be part of that equation. "It's cast-sensitive. If we'd had a longer run in New York or if Faith had won the Tony, it'd be different. But without the success we felt we merited in New York, we have to really look at how we package the tour." As for Summer of `42, director Gabriel Barre (Cinderella) had told the New York Post that the company is "trying to remain undistracted by anything to do with business" and that the producer had "so far maintained integrity in every aspect of his involvement in this piece."
Goodspeed Musicals produced the Ohio run of Summer, with its previous set and cast intact, including Idina Menzel as a Maine war bride Dorothy, who teaches 15-year-old Hermie (newcomer Ryan Driscoll) a bittersweet lesson in love. Driscoll is still with the production, but the lead is now played by Kate Jennings Grant.
Kirshenbaum and librettist Hunter Foster based their show on the 1971 film by screenwriter-author Herman Raucher and his earlier novel of the same name.
The show's developmental world-premiere run in Chester, CT, played Aug. 10-Sept. 10, 2000. There, audiences cheered the comic and rueful musical so much that an extra week was added to the original run. During the Connecticut run, the creators of the new musical made changes and refinements to their show, cutting one song and adding a new one. The writers were in residence during the run. Kirshenbaum told PBOL (Dec. 29, 2000), "We couldn't have been happier in terms of audience response and industry observers in the two productions so far." By the end of the Norma Terris run, "Losing Track of Time," which has been recorded by Alice Ripley, was moved from Act Two to Act One and a new tune, "Our Story So Far," has been added to Act Two, for the war-bride character, Dorothy. A number for her called "Less Than Perfect" was cut.
Songs in the show have included "Someone To Dance With Me," "Will That Ever Happen To Me?" and the solo for Dorothy, "Losing Track of Time" (which has been recorded).
The Ohio booking was the first time the show faced critics. (As a developmental space, Goodspeed-at-Chester has a gentleman's agreement with critics allowing the works-in-progress to go unreviewed, despite a tendency toward sold-out houses and star names.) Observers have suggested the warm, humorous, bittersweet musical could have a huge life regionally, the same way Nunsense, Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?, Over the Tavern, The Foreigner, The Nerd, The Immigrant and other works became mini-industries.
Designers for the Ohio run were Timothy Hunter (lighting), James Youmans (set) and Pamela Scofield (costumes). Lynne Shankel is musical director. The cast also included Brett Tabisel, a Tony Award nominee for Big, as Hermie's pal, Oscy; Jason Marcus as Benjie; Matt Farnsworth as Pete; Jeanne Goodman as Gloria; Celia Keenan-Bolger as Aggie; Bill Kux as Walter Winchell/Mr. Sanders; Megan Walker as Miriam.
* Manhattan and regional readings of Summer of '42 preceded the Goodspeed staging. The tuner had readings in New York City and Ann Arbor, MI, in 1999. Nick Corley staged previous readings of Summer of '42.
Though critics were lukewarm, Robert Mulligan's 1971 film, "Summer of '42," became a big box office draw, with new star Jennifer O'Neill and composer Michel LeGrand receiving special attention.
Asked about how Summer came into fruition, composer-lyricist Kirshenbaum told Playbill On-Line in 1999: "It was Hunter Foster's idea, and we've been working on it just over a year in earnest. He and I went to the University of Michigan together. In fact, he had a lead role in the first musical I ever wrote. Anyway, he had the idea, and I said, `if you can get the rights to it, go ahead,' figuring these things are impossibly complicated. Hunter's lawyer approached [screenwriter] Herman Raucher's lawyers, and in a month we had the rights. We started working on it February of last year and held a private reading for ourselves in March."
Asked what he felt was special about the material, Kirshenbaum said, "It's a memory play. People remember the movie's nostalgic element, the relationship between Dorothy and Hermie, but I think the piece is more about loss. It's very touching. Through this first love of his life, Hermie goes through every kind of emotion you can experience in a relationship. Of course, it's also very funny."
— By David Lefkowitz
and Kenneth Jones