According to the director, Gabriel Barre, the show has a pretty lofty theme: "The show is about the survival of the family of mankind."
Joseph Stein, the book writer, says that big theme is one reason why they felt Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth lent itself to musical adaptation.
"It's a large theme, it's larger then life, it's something you can sing about," he said. "It's not a kitchen play."
Mankind is represented by the Antrobus family, portrayed by the multicultural mix of Shuler Hensley, Yvette Freeman, Samantha Futerman and Carlo Alban. "We see this family through all kinds of struggles, both natural and man-made, including world wars, floods, ice storms as well as their own family battles along the way," Barre noted.
"This takes place over 600,000 years, but I think what they're trying to say in this is that no matter what age you live in, we all have the same problems," Hensley said. He admitted that because of the time shifts, "When I first read it, I had no idea what I was reading." During the preview, the first song had Homer, Moses, Socrates and Plato singing to Mr. Antrobus (Hensley), "You need a whole lotta love to make a family."
Eartha Kitt, who plays Esmeralda, the Fortune Teller, then sang an ominous song in which she prophesizes, "There's gonna be rain." For Kitt the show evokes some déjà vu, as she appeared at Westport half a century ago — in Mrs. Patterson, which she also performed on Broadway — and appeared in The Skin of Our Teeth at the La Jolla Playhouse, as Sabina.
Kitt spoke afterwards about the show's contemporary relevance. "This is what we're going through," she said, "with the wars going on and people being so dissatisfied with each other and with life and the government and everything that they're dissatisfied with, and they don't know how to get it out of their system. Well, come to see this play and maybe you would be psychoanalyzed about why you should not be hating, because evolution is evolution and it's going to happen no matter what."
Cady Huffman, who plays Sabina, the family's maid, sang a song that spoofs beauty pageants, proclaiming that she would create world peace, cure cancer and do many other things if she were to beat out Cleopatra, Joan of Arc and Helen of Troy for the title of Miss Big Bang. The song included Huffman playing a tuba solo à la Patti LuPone in Sweeney Todd.
"I am the iconic 'other woman,' so my job is to seduce Mr. Antrobus and keep things a little exciting," Huffman said. "In the first part she's more of a silly girl, in the second part she's much more that focused sexual being that knows what she wants and is a little evil about it, and the third section she's survived a world war, a flood, and she sort of has a moment to appreciate the ordinary things in life."
The chorus then sang a song about war, with a lot of marching choreography and the refrain "I'll always be a military man." Hensley finished up the preview by singing a song in which he assures his family, "We'll get by, by the skin of our teeth."
Afterwards, he said of the music, "It's one of the first times I've really been able to use my voice in terms of what I was trained, more legit theatre. [The Great American] Trailer Park [Musical] had the sort of country pop, and Tarzan was more the Phil Collins softer rock type, so this is right up my alley."
Barre told the group that he hopes the audience comes away with the idea that "it's the small things in life that must be cherished, that it's the miracle of being alive that must be embraced, that it's through each other that we not only will want to but can survive another day, put another log on the fire and keep going."
Other cast members include Eric Michael Gillett (Broadway's The Frogs, Sweet Smell of Success, Kiss Me Kate) and Drew Taylor (Broadway's Sweet Smell of Success, Annie, The Secret Garden) as the Wooley Mammoths, Tony Freeman as Stage Manager, David Standish as Hologram Boy and the ensemble members Michael-Leon Wooley ("Dreamgirls"), Michael Thomas Holmes (Oklahoma! on Broadway), J. Elaine Marcos (The Wedding Singer and other Broadway shows), Daniel Marcus (Broadway's Urinetown, The Woman in White), Rachelle Rak (Broadway's Fosse, Oklahoma!, Cats), Frank Vlastnick and Sally Ann Tumas.
The design team includes James Youmans (sets), Ken Billington (lights), Ann Hould-Ward (costumes) and Brian Ronan (sound). The musical director is Patrick Vaccariello. Christopher Gattelli will choreograph.
The Westport Country Playhouse is located at 25 Powers Court in Westport, CT. For tickets and more information call the box office at (203) 227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.