Summer of '42, a new musical based on the novel and popular film of the same title, ended its Off-Broadway run Jan. 27, after playing 11 previews and 47 regular performances at the Variety Arts Theatre, but Mitchell Maxwell told Playbill On-Line he's lining up dates for a tour of the crowd-pleaser to start in fall 2002.
Maxwell said the post-New York debut of the musical by Hunter Foster (book) and David Kirshenbaum (music and lyrics) will be in Dallas in November, followed by more dates in 2003 and perhaps a sitdown in Chicago.
The show began New York previews 60 years to the day from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 2001, and officially opened Dec. 18. Despite a short presence in Manhattan, the show was a regional smash in Connecticut and Ohio.
Summer of '42 had the earmarks of a hit, especially among sentimental audiences of a certain age who responded to the old-fashioned, romantic (and, many critics carped, romanticized) vision of wartime America. In fact, the opening date for New York was moved up, from Jan. 6, 2002, to Dec. 18, because the piece was deemed ready to go. Critics were mostly dismissive and the Off-Broadway climate has been choppy owing to the current war, so the musical struggled at the box office.
Budgeted at $1.5 million, the production had been an open run. Maxwell produced with James Simon, Robert Eckert and Kumiko Yoshi, in association with Fred H. Krones, as well as Stamford Center for the Arts. According to a release from the production's press office, the show closed "Due to the current state of New York theatre..." No casting has been announced for the tour, which is expected to start at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas. Audiences who saw the work at Goodspeeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theatre prior to Off-Broadway embraced the show and it became a sold-out hit there (and moved on to a popular engagement in Dayton, OH).
In Summer of '42, young Hermie and war bride Dorothy find comfort in each other's company during World War II. He's a good kid but invariably pubescent; she's a loving wife, but lonely. Early on, observers had suggested the comic and gently nostalgic 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. The producers previously mentioned Los Angeles and Chicago as target cities for tour dates.
The New York run of Summer featured the same cast that played in the show's June 23-July 15, 2001, run at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, CA and the official pre-New York tryout at the Stamford Center for the Arts (Nov. 15-28). Kate Jennings Grant and Ryan Driscoll were the leads, alongside Brett Tabisel (Big), Celia Keenan-Bolger, Bill Kux, Jason Marcus, Greg Stone, Megan Valerie Walker and Erin Webley.
Kirshenbaum and Foster (the latter is now starring as heroic Bobby Strong in Urinetown) based their show on the 1971 film by screenwriter-author Herman Raucher and his earlier novel of the same name. 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 (whose own musical, Le Passe Muraille is expected to see a Broadway stage under the title Amour) receiving special attention.
Following a summer 2000 premiere run at Goodspeed-at Chester/The Norma Terris Theatre in Connecticut, a midwest premiere at the Victoria Theatre in Dayton, OH (Oct. 10-22, 2000), several weeks off to regroup and the aforementioned West Coast run, the creative and production staffers for Summer of '42 announced that the show would have a mini-tour, stopping in Stamford and then Boston on its way to Broadway. The Boston dates were later nixed, and the show instead reached an Off-Broadway house.
Goodspeed Musicals produced the Ohio run of Summer, with its previous set and cast intact, including Idina Menzel as Maine war bride Dorothy, who teaches 15-year-old Hermie (newcomer Driscoll) a bittersweet lesson in love. Driscoll is still with the production, but the lead is now played by Jennings Grant. Gabriel Barre (Cinderella, the Off-Broadway Wild Party) directed and choreographed. Designing the show are James Youmans (set), Pamela Scofield (costumes), Tim Hunter (lighting) and Acme Sound Partners (sound). Lynne Shankel served as musical director and also penned the orchestrations and vocal arrangements.
The stage 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 later renamed (to "Love Will Carry Me Through Time"). Also, a new tune, "Our Story So Far," was added to Act Two, for the war bride character, Dorothy. That song, plus a number for her called "Less Than Perfect," ended up being cut, with "Promise of the Morning" added instead.
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.
Summer of '42 co-producer Mitchell Maxwell (Momentum Productions) presided over a Nov. 1 group sales preview at a midtown Manhattan rehearsal studio, with the cast, director and other creatives on hand. Maxwell began the presentation by noting that in these "strange and difficult times" following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he'd considered postponing the show. However, he changed his mind when he recalled an old (possibly apocryphal) story about Frank Capra becoming deathly ill after winning his second consecutive Oscar and then recovering when he realized two things: he was afraid of following his success with failure, and that, during wartime, his films "spoke to people in the dark" with good rather than Hitler's evil. "Our show has extra resonance because of recent events," Maxwell concluded. "We're living in a world on the edge of war, and the show deals with the fragility of life."
— By Kenneth Jones
and David Lefkowitz