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 will soon get a mounting at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, CA, followed by a mini-tour going from Stamford, CT to Boston, MA, and, if all bodes well, New York City. Composer-lyricist David Kirshenbaum informed Playbill On-Line that final casting is currently underway, and that Mitchell Maxwell has signed on as lead producer for the show.
Goodspeed 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. Kirshenbaum and librettist Hunter Foster based their show on the 1971 film by screenwriter-novelist Herman Raucher.
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. The tuner, directed by Gabriel Barre (currently helming the Cinderella tour), draws on Raucher's 1971 screenplay and earlier novel of the same name.
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.
The Ohio move was arranged with Dione Kennedy, managing director of the Victoria, a 1,100-seat touring house in Dayton. Kennedy came to Chester, CT, for the developmental run of the show at Goodspeed's 200-seat Norma Terris, and thought her audience would embrace it. Victoria audiences were informed that the show contains mature subject matter and adult language.
Other producers such as Barry and Fran Weissler, Edgar Dobie and Tom and Jack Viertel also came to sample Summer of '42 in Connecticut.
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.
Hunter Foster is the New York actor who has appeared in the recent Grease! revival and Footloose. Composer-lyricist Kirshenbaum may be best known for Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. He won a Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation Award for Summer of '42. He was cabaret director at Williamstown Theatre Festival has musical-directed at York Theatre Company in Manhattan.
Menzel, a Tony Award nominee for Rent, played Kate in Barre's spring 2000 staging of Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party at Manhattan Theatre Club.
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."
* Visit the Goodspeed website at www.goodspeed.org.
-- By Kenneth Jones
and David Lefkowitz