Tony Walton Adds More Loesser to Where's Charley? Revival at Goodspeed This Summer

News   Tony Walton Adds More Loesser to Where's Charley? Revival at Goodspeed This Summer Director-designer Tony Walton won't just help create the visual world of Frank Loesser's Where's Charley? for Goodspeed Musicals this summer: He's reimagining the script and score, too.

With the blessing of Jo Sullivan Loesser, the composer lyricist's widow, Walton will add a half-dozen Loesser numbers to the lean score of the romantic 1948 musical comedy that has Charley's Aunt as its source.

Audiences might know "Once in Love With Amy" or "My Darling, My Darling" from the score, but the show itself doesn't ring bells in the popular imagination. Occasional revivals (Broadway in 1974, Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2002) haven't made lasting impressions, and there was no Broadway cast album (though some songs were recorded featuring original stars Ray Bolger and Allyn McLerie).

Goodspeed, committed to the heritage of musical theatre as well as new works, hopes to remind a wider audience of the pluck and charm of the hit show in which a singalong of "Once in Love With Amy" was a standout moment in 1948.

"One of the reasons why people don't know it too well is that it's rather light, musically," Walton told Playbill On Line. "For example, it has six less songs than Guys and Dolls, which was the next musical [Loesser] wrote. Luckily, Jo Sullivan Loesser, Frank's widow, has encouraged me to dig into the trunk, as it were, and see what else he wrote around that year that conceivably might have been written for the show or might have been written in a similar frame of mind."

Walton said he collected six additional songs, "two of which were definitely written for the show," he said, and "a third one I'm almost 99 percent certain was." Freshly interpolated in the Goodspeed production, playing the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT, July 9-Sept. 25, will be "I Wish I Didn't Love You So" (from the 1947 movie, "The Perils of Pauline"), "The Hyacinth" and "Why Fight the Feeling" (both from the 1950 movie, "Let's Dance"), "A Tune for Humming" (a "miscellaneous song" from 1947), "Don't Introduce Me to That Angel" (unused from Where's Charley?) and "He Can Waltz" (from the 1947 film, "Variety Girl").

The George Abbott libretto of the musical will also be tweaked by Walton, with the permission of Abbott's widow, Joy Abbott. Walton said elements from the 1892 Brandon Thomas farce and the revised post-Broadway London script of the musical will be incorporated.

In writing the musical, Abbott "squashed" two characters from the play together to create one character (Charley, played by star Ray Bolger). That is not being changed, Walton said.

Some existing numbers, like "Pernambuco," are being shifted to different spots.

"I haven't done anything radical," Walton said. "I tried to honor the intention of the original."

Walton has a history with the late Mr. Abbott: He designed sets and costumes for Abbott's original production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Walton and Loesser have a past, too: He designed the London premiere of Loesser's The Most Happy Fella.

"I love everything of Loesser's, indiscriminately," Walton admitted. "He was just fabulous: Runyonesque and feisty and full of self-confidence, but also very romantic and warm and very clear about what he felt was needed in shows."

In preparing for Where's Charley?, Walton called original producer, nonagenarian Cy Feuer, who told Walton, "I used to automatically cut all the ballads. And Frank used to say to me, 'Don't do that, you can't do that. I'm not a songwriter. I'm in the romance business!"

Nimble Noah Racey, in the tradition of light comedian dancers before him, will star as Charley in Where's Charley?

On Broadway, the Frank Loesser musical originally starred the bounding, tap-happy Ray Bolger. Racey made a breakthough in 2003-04 in the short-lived Broadway musical, Never Gonna Dance, shaking his shoes in a role created by Fred Astaire. He was a dance captain for Broadway's Thoroughly Modern Millie and appeared in that show's original cast.

Co-designing the Goodspeed production with Walton are Kelly Hanson (set) and Martha Bromelmeier (costumes). Lisa Shriver will choreograph.

For more information, visit www.goodspeed.org.