Sentimental Journey: Signature Revives Kander & Ebb's Happy Time April 1

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01 Apr 2008

Tracy Lynn Olivera, Jace Casey and George Dvorsky
Tracy Lynn Olivera, Jace Casey and George Dvorsky
Photo by Scott Suchman
The Happy Time, the 1968 musical that boasts what many view as a rare sentimental score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, gets a fresh revival by Signature Theatre starting April 1 in Arlington, VA.

The production, directed by Michael Unger, is part of the Signature's spring Kander & Ebb Festival, which also features full productions of the team's Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Visit (as well as related events such as cabarets, panels and exhibits).

The Happy Time in Arlington is a revised version of the 1968 Broadway show that starred Robert Goulet as a world-weary photographer named Jacques, who returns to his French-Canadian roots. The director is restoring numbers from the Broadway production that had been cut following the Broadway run.

The Happy Time's development was mentioned in William Goldman's famous non-fiction chronicle, "The Season," a theatre book many fans of Broadway find essential. Gower Champion won Tony Awards for directing and choreographing the show; Goulet was named Best Actor in a Musical.

The new cast includes Michael Minarik as Jacques; David Margulies as his cantankerous father; George Dvorsky as his brother, who is the stern father of an impressionable young boy, Bibi, played by young newcomer Jace Casey; Tracy Lynn Olivera as Suzanne; Rob McQuay as Louis; Carrie A. Johnson as Laurie; Amy McWilliams as Felice; and Kate Arnold, Emily Levey, Lauren Williams, Rachel Zampelli, William Beech, Rafael Hernandez-Roulet, Jordan Moral, Matthew Nee and Jordan Silver.



The Happy Time plays to June 1 at Signature's intimate 110-seat ARK Theatre.

The Happy Time has a book by N. Richard Nash, based on a play by Samuel Taylor. It was was Kander and Ebb's post- Cabaret musical.

According to Signature, "The show tells the story of Jacques Bonnard, a world-traveling photographer, who returns home to the small French-Canadian town of St. Pierre in search of his happy youth. Along the way, Bonnard fires up the romantic spirit of his hometown’s inhabitants — including his old flame Laurie — and tempts his godson with dreams of escape."

Ebb is best known for his salty, pungent, cynical lyrics — think "When You're Good to Mama" from Chicago, "Life Is" from Zorba or "Two Ladies" and the title song of Cabaret — and less famous for words that are (as Kander once said) "directly emotional."

Since The Happy Time is about a man walking among his yesterdays in his hometown, the 1968 musical featured heartfelt Ebb lyrics and such titles as "I Don't Remember You," "Please Stay," "If You Leave Me Now" (cut from the score and not in this version), the title song and (no kidding) "Walking Among My Yesterdays." There is even a song, in French, sung by schoolchildren.

Director Unger told Playbill.com that the Signature production will be a revision of a Goodspeed Musicals revival draft, which added a song called "Running," an 11 o'clock number for Jacques. That version also included three songs cut prior to the Broadway opening — "Jeanne Marie," "In His Own Good Time" and "I'm Sorry," to be heard in Virginia, as well.

Some minor amendments have been made to the script and score for this latest outing (song order, for example). As at Goodspeed, what remains is a more downbeat ending that was the original intent of Nash, Kander and Ebb. Gower Champion had turned the show into a sunnier experience, diluting Nash's theme of romance vs. reality. Is photographer Jacques a success or a flop? And what lasting thing can he leave behind?

Unger said that there is talk that this version may become the future and official licensable draft of The Happy Time.

The Happy Time's creative team includes music director David Holcenberg, choreographer Karma Camp, costume designer Kathleen Geldard, scenic and projection designer Todd Edward Ivins (whose projected photos are sepia-toned and hand-tinted), lighting designer Mark Lanks, sound designer Matt Rowe and production stage manager Katherine C. Mielke. Tickets to The Happy Time are $45-$69. For information call Ticketmaster at (703) 573-SEAT (7328) or visit www.signature-theatre.org.

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Kiss of the Spider Woman continues in The MAX Theatre through April 20. The Visit starring Chita Rivera and George Hearn plays May 13-June 22.