The staging officially opens at the East Haddam, CT, playhouse Aug. 11, when Noah Racey, following a month of previews, will once again sing and dance the infectious front-of-curtain number, "Once in Love With Amy." Just as Ray Bolger famously did in the original in 1948, Racey exits with his straw hat and cane and then sneaks back in for an encore, inviting all to sing along.
The full-throated theatregoers who join him (knowing every word of the song, it seemed at one recent matinee) prove that Goodspeed Musicals' producer Michael P. Price knows how to deliver exactly what his audience wants.
Audiences who missed Racey's brief turn in the Fred Astaire-flavored Broadway musical, Never Gonna Dance, in 2003, cannot overlook his work in the central title role of the musical based on the 1892 Brandon Thomas farce Charley's Aunt. At a recent Goodspeed curtain call, theatregoers literally yelled "more," signaling their delight that an old-school musical comedy star was born before their eyes. Previews began July 9. Performances continue to Sept. 25.
Racey, who is also a veteran of the ensemble of Thoroughly Modern Millie, stars as the romantic Oxford lad in love with Amy. Charley and his pal, Jack (played by Greg Mills), skirt chaperone issues (to woo Nili Bassman's Amy and Kristin Huxhold's Kitty) by having Charley dress up as his aunt. The auntie, of course, shows up (Mary Illes plays her). The musical rewrites the famous play somewhat, doing away with a third pal and giving his business to Charley.
Tony Award-winning designer Tony Walton stages the show and oversaw the changes to the George Abbott libretto and Frank Loesser score (including the interpolation of other Loesser songs to fill out a lean songlist). Lisa Shriver choreographs.
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).
"One of the reasons why people don't know it too well is that it's rather light, musically," Walton previously 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."
Where's Charley? focuses on "two Oxford chaps as they woo their proper ladies without supervision," according to Goodspeed. "A bit of trouble ensues when Charley's 'aunt' drops by for a visit, setting off a chain of unexpected antics."
Walton is an Oscar, Emmy and Tony winner best known as a set and costume designer. Most recently, Walton directed Song of Twilight for Bay Street Theatre, and directed and designed The Importance of Being Earnest and Major Barbara for the Irish Repertory Theatre.
Where's Charley? features Paul Carlin, Drew Eshelman and Ron Lee Savin. The cast also includes Evan Ashley Bryant; Callie Carter, Christian Delcroix, Jennifer Evans, Josh Grisetti, Elizabeth Inghram, Michael D. Jablonski, Dayla Perkins, Amber Stone and Jeff Williams. Geoff Packard and Collette Simmons are swings.
The musical director for Where's Charley? is Michael O'Flaherty. Bill Thomas is assistant musical director. Orchestrations are by Larry Moore. Walton and Kelly Hanson designed the sets. Walton and Martha Bromelmeier designed the costumes. Lighting design is by Richard Pilbrow.
For more information, call (860) 873-8668 or visit www.goodspeed.org.