Manhattan and regional readings of the new musical by librettist Hunter Foster and composer-lyricist David Kirshenbaum paid off earlier this year when Goodspeed Opera House announced the show for its developmental arm in Chester, CT. The tuner was announced for November, but was later pulled back for summer dates.
Gabriel Barre, who helmed The Wild Party with Menzel at Manhattan Theatre Club, directs the musical based on the motion picture about a boy's coming of age in a homefront seaside town during World War II.
A revamped Dear World now has the Nov. 16-Dec. 10 spot at Goodspeed-at-Chester.
Menzel was a Tony Award nominee for Rent. She will excite young Ryan Driscoll as Hermie and Tony nominee Brett Tabisel (Big) as his pal, Oscy. The Chester, CT, developmental venue of the prestigious Goodspeed Opera House (of East Haddam, CT) doesn't allow reviewers in, but provides a platform for new work to be tested in a full staging in front of an audience. Summer of '42 recently won a Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation grant.
The musicalization of the coming-of-age film, about a teenager and a war widow, had readings in New York City and Ann Arbor, MI, in 1999. Foster is an actor who appeared in Footloose and the recent Grease! revival. David Kirshenbaum wrote Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus.
Goodspeed is the organization that gave early voice to a musical called Annie.
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. The story told of a 15-year-old boy, Hermie, drawn into a relationship with Dorothy, a beautiful war-bride.
Nick Corley staged previous readings of Summer of '42.
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."
Asked about how Summer came into fruition, composer-lyricist Kirshenbaum told Playbill On-Line (May 3, 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 Kenneth Jones
and David Lefkowitz