Summer of `42, a new musical based on the novel and popular film of the same title, ends its run, Jan. 27, after playing 11 previews and 47 regular performances at Off-Broadway's Variety Arts Theatre. The show started previews sixty years to the day from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 2001, and officially opened Dec. 18.
The show 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 was moved up, from Jan. 6 to Dec. 18, because the piece was deemed ready to go. But critics were mostly dismissive, the Off-Broadway climate's been choppy owing to the current war, and the tuner struggled at the box office since it opened.
Budgeted at $1.5 million, the production had been an open run. The Maxwells are producing with James Simon, Robert Eckert and Kumiko Yoshii, in association with Fred H. Krones, as well as Stamford Center for the Arts. According to a release from the the Springer/Chicoine press office, the show is closing, "Due to the current state of New York theatre..."
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 inavariably 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. Summer of `42's failure to conquer New York may hurt its chances a bit, but don't count the show out; plans are already in the works for regional productions, with the producers specifically naming Los Angeles and Chicago as target cities. .
The New York run of Summer features the same cast that played in the show's June 23-July 15 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 are the leads, alongside Brett Tabisel (Big), Celia Keenan-Bolger, Bill Kux, Jason Marcus, Greg Stone, Megan Valerie Walker and Erin Webley. Critics generally praised the cast and the show's boogie-woogie numbers, but the rest of the score was deemed mostly ordinary, and many scribes saw the book as being trite and distanced from real emotion.
Composer-lyricist David Kirshenbaum and librettist Hunter Foster (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 may soon see a Broadway stage) 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) directs and choreographs. Designing the show are James Youmans (set), Pamela Scofield (costumes), Tim Hunter (lighting) and Acme Sound Partners (sound). Lynne Shankel serves as musical director and also penned the orchestrations and vocal arrangements, according to production spokespersons at the Springer/Chicoine office.
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."
For tickets and information on Summer of `42 at the Variety Arts Theatre: 110 Third Ave, call (212) 239-6200. Eve Ensler's Necessary Targets will be the next tenant for the Variety Arts.
— By David Lefkowitz
and Kenneth Jones