True to the tradition of Babes in Arms, which originally featured youthful newcomers in its 1937 Broadway debut, the Goodspeed Musicals reconsideration of the Rodgers and Hart classic, opening Aug. 2, at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT, is not star-driven.
Newcomers Rena Strober and Bradford Anderson play teen sweethearts Billie and Val, but everyone knows the hit-filled Rodgers and Hart score is the true star of this famed musical, about kids putting on a show to prove they are more than just babes in arms. Previews began July 12, and performances continue to Sept. 28.
Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) penned a new libretto that is inspired by the 1937 original. The show gave the world such classic American songs as "Johnny One-Note," "I Wish I Were in Love Again," "Where or When," "My Funny Valentine" and "The Lady is a Tramp." The Rodgers and Hart classic, "Blue Moon," not written for a specific show, is being interpolated into the score by director Greg Ganakas, as are "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," "With a Song in My Heart" and "You Took Advantage of Me." ("I Gotta Get Back to New York" was added, then subtracted in previews.)
Starting in the late 1950s, a sanitized version of the show (with a new libretto by George Oppenheimer) became the official licensed version of Babes in Arms, and circulated in stock and amateur theatres for decades. Unlike that vanilla script, DiPietro's book references racial issues, as did the 1937 script by Rodgers and Hart. Ginger Rogers directed a stock version of the Oppenheimer show in the 1980s that starred Randy Skinner (who is choreographing at Goodspeed) and Karen Ziemba. Garland Wright and Ken LaZebnik penned a completely new version of the show (also using interpolations) for the Guthrie Theatre several years ago. John Guare did a concert adaptation that was close to the original script for the popular Encores! concert series at City Center. Skinner will stage a version of that concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, in November. Because tap expert Skinner has been attached to various versions of Babes in Arms in the past, it's assumed Babes in Arms was originally a tap show. Was it?
"No, I don't think it was," he told Playbill On-Line. "To my knowledge, [choreographer] George Balanchine didn't tap. He might have had assistants with him."
Which numbers in the Goodspeed Babes are conceived as tap numbers?
"There is a lot of tap in it," Skinner admitted. "'You Took Advantage of Me' is a big tap number. 'Johnny One-Note' is a big tap number. The prologue has tap. There's splashes of dramatic tap at book points based on the African-American characters — the whole plot hinges on the fact that the sheriff says they can't have blacks in the show, which is the point of the original show, too, in '37."
Anderson is a graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and most recently played the role of Matt in The Fantasticks at the Idaho Repertory Theater, where he was also in The Tempest. Strober has been seen on Broadway and on tour in Les Misérables. A graduate of Skidmore College, Strober's regional theatre credits include the world premiere of Reefer Madness in Los Angeles and Fiddler on the Roof at the Music Circus in Sacramento.
Marie Lillo will play Mabel Lancaster, a new character added to the production. This character will now sing "The Lady Is a Tramp" rather than the Billie character.
The company also includes Harley Adams (Mickey LaMar), Jared Grimes (Ivor), Nikki James (Darlene), Dana Zihlman (Dolores Reynolds), Thomas Cannizzaro (Gus), Jeremy Davis (Dick), Rick Faugno (Larry), Tim Federle (Steve), Jeanne Goodman (Dolly), Casey Owens (Edna), Erin Webley (June), Kenneth Kantor (Sheriff Reynolds).
Director Greg Ganakas helmed Goodspeed's Brigadoon and George M! Choreographer Skinner choreographed the current Broadway production of 42nd Street, plus Goodspeed's George M! and Lucky in the Rain.
Press opening is Aug. 2. Tickets range $22-$47. For information, call the Goodspeed box office at (860) 873-8668 or visit www.goodspeed.org.
There are two recordings of Babes in Arms in record stores: The Encores! concert cast with David Campbell, Erin Dilly and Melissa Rain Anderson, and a studio cast recording with Judy Kaye, Gregg Edelman and Judy Blazer. Both offer original orchestrations, rare dance music and lesser-known reprises.
— By Kenneth Jones