The summer wind begins to blow with a hint of melody at The Norma Terris Theatre Aug. 10, when Summer of '42, the musical, begins performances in Chester, CT.
Idina Menzel of Rent plays the war bride who bonds with a teenager on the homefront during World War II, teaching him a bittersweet lesson in love. Newcomer Ryan Driscoll plays young Hermie in the Goodspeed-at Chester-produced tuner based on the novel and screenplay by Herman Raucher.
Hunter Foster, the New York actor who has appeared in the recent Grease! revival and Footloose, penned the libretto, and David Kirshenbaum is composer lyricist.
Goodspeed-at-Chester/The Norma Terris Theatre (in Chester) is the development arm of the Goodspeed Opera House, in nearby East Haddam, CT. No critics are allowed to review, but Goodspeed provides a platform for new work to be tested in a full staging in front of an audience. Summer of '42 performances continue to Sept. 3.
Gabriel Barre directs a cast that includes Menzel as teary war bride Dorothy; Brett Tabisel, a Tony Award nominee for Big, as Hermie's pal, Oscy; Driscoll (a high school senior from Deep River, CT) as Hermie; Jason Marcus as Benjie; Matt Farnsworth as Pete; Jeanne Goodman as Gloria; Celia Keenan-Bolger as Aggie; Bill Kux as Walter Winchell/Mr. Sanders; Megan Walker as Miriam. Menzel, a Tony Award nominee for Rent, played Kate in Barre's spring 2000 staging of Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party at Manhattan Theatre Club.
Manhattan and regional readings of the new musical preceded the Goodspeed developmental staging, which is a full production minus the pressure of reviewers. The tuner was announced for November, but was later pulled back for summer dates.
Summer of '42 is the musicalization of the 1971 film (and novel by Herman Raucher) about a teenager's coming-of age with a war widow on an East Coast island. The tuner had readings in New York City and Ann Arbor, MI, in 1999.
Composer-lyricist Kirshenbaum may be best known for Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. He won a Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation Award for Summer of '42. He was cabaret director at Williamstown Theatre Festival has musical-directed at York Theatre Company in Manhattan.
Designers are James Youmans (set), Pamela Scofield (costumes) Timothy Hunter (lighting). Lynne Shankel is musical director.
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 receiving special attention. The story told of a 15-year-old boy, Hermie, drawn into a relationship with Dorothy, a beautiful war-bride.
Nick Corley staged previous readings of Summer of '42.
Songs in the show have included "Someone To Dance With Me," "Will That Ever Happen To Me?" and the solo for Dorothy, "Losing Track of Time" (which has been recorded).
Asked about how Summer came into fruition, composer-lyricist Kirshenbaum told Playbill On-Line in 1999: "It was Hunter Foster's idea, and we've been working on it just over a year in earnest. He and I went to the University of Michigan together. In fact, he had a lead role in the first musical I ever wrote. Anyway, he had the idea, and I said, `if you can get the rights to it, go ahead,' figuring these things are impossibly complicated. Hunter's lawyer approached [screenwriter] Herman Raucher's lawyers, and in a month we had the rights. We started working on it February of last year and held a private reading for ourselves in March."
Asked what he felt was special about the material, Kirshenbaum said, "It's a memory play. People remember the movie's nostalgic element, the relationship between Dorothy and Hermie, but I think the piece is more about loss. It's very touching. Through this first love of his life, Hermie goes through every kind of emotion you can experience in a relationship. Of course, it's also very funny."
Tickets are $29. "Talkbacks" between the audience and the creative team will be held after performances Aug. 17, 24 and 31.
For information about Summer of '42, call (860) 873-8668 or visit the Goodspeed website at www.goodspeed.org.
-- By Kenneth Jones
and David Lefkowitz