After months of juggling and decision making, the producers of Summer of '42 took the first step with their new, Off-Broadway bound musical: the show ended its two-week tryout at CT's Stamford Center for the Arts, Nov. 28. Performances began Nov. 15. The tuner will start previews at the Variety Arts Theatre Dec. 7 for an opening there Dec. 18. (A Springer/Chicoine office spokesperson confirmed a Nov. 30 New York Times report that the opening was recently moved up from a Jan. 6, 2002 launch.)
Budgeted at $1.5 million, the production is expected to be an open run. The Maxwells are producing with Robert Eckert and Kumiko Yoshii, in association with Fred H. Krones & James Simon, as well as Stamford Center for the Arts. The New York run features the same cast that played in the show's last gig (June 23-July 15 at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, CA), including Kate Jennings Grant and Ryan Driscoll as the leads. Also in the cast are Brett Tabisel (Big), Celia Keenan-Bolger, Bill Kux, Jason Marcus, Greg Stone, Megan Valerie Walker and Erin Webley.
Summer of `42 co-producer Mitchell Maxwell (Momentum Productions) presided over a Nov. 1 group sales preview at a midtown Manhattan rehearsal studio, with the cast, director and other creatives on hand. Maxwell began the presentation by noting that in these "strange and difficult times" following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he'd considered postponing the show. However, he changed his mind when he recalled an old (possibly apocryphal) story about Frank Capra becoming deathly ill after winning his second consecutive Oscar and then recovering when he realized two things: he was afraid of following his success with failure, and that, during wartime, his films "spoke to people in the dark" with good rather than Hitler's evil. "Our show has extra resonance because of recent events," Maxwell concluded. "We're living in a world on the edge of war, and the show deals with the fragility of life."
Four musical numbers then followed, the first, a boogie-woogie tune in which war brides and girlfriends warn that they may not wait for their husbands to return home before getting a little action. A ballad, "Someone to Dance with Me," followed, with Dorothy recalling the way her she felt when she first met her husband, and young Hermie wondering if he'll ever meet a girl he'll feel the same way about. After a well-received comic number about Hermie and his friend double dating at the movies, the presentation concluded with "Promise of the Morning," another ballad for Dorothy and Hermie. Photos of James Youmans' set design show the production to be staged on beachfront, with sand below and clouds and a blue sky painted on the backdrop.
Composer-lyricist David Kirshenbaum and librettist Hunter Foster (now starring as heroic Bobby Strong in Urinetown) based their show on the 1971 film by screenwriter-author Herman Raucher and his earlier novel of the same name. 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.
Following a summer 2000 premiere run at Goodspeed-at-Chester/The Norma Terris Theatre in Connecticut, a midwest premiere at the Victoria Theatre in Dayton, OH (Oct. 10-22, 2000), several weeks off to regroup and the aforementioned West Coast run, the creative and production staffers for Summer of '42 had previously announced that the show would have a mini-tour, stopping in Stamford and then Boston on its way to Broadway. The Boston dates were nixed, and the show will instead reach an Off Broadway house.
Goodspeed Musicals produced the Ohio run of Summer, with its previous set and cast intact, including Idina Menzel as a Maine war bride Dorothy, who teaches 15-year-old Hermie (newcomer Driscoll) a bittersweet lesson in love. Driscoll is still with the production, but the lead is now played by Jennings Grant. Gabriel Barre (Cinderella, the Off-Broadway Wild Party) directs and choreographs. Designing the show are James Youmans (set), Pamela Scofield (costumes), Tim Hunter (lighting) and Acme Sound Partners (sound). Lynne Shankel serves as musical director and also penned the orchestrations and vocal arrangements, according to production spokespersons at the Springer/Chicoine office.
The Ohio booking was the first time the show faced critics. (As a developmental space, Goodspeed-at-Chester has a gentleman's agreement with critics allowing the works-in-progress to go unreviewed, despite a tendency toward sold-out houses and star names.) Observers have suggested the comic and gently nostalgic musical could have a huge life regionally, the same way Nunsense, Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?, Over the Tavern, The Foreigner, The Nerd, The Immigrant and other works became mini-industries.
Designers for the Dayton, Palo Alto and upcoming New York run are Timothy Hunter (lighting), James Youmans (set) and Pamela Scofield (costumes). Lynne Shankel is musical director. The cast also included Brett Tabisel, a Tony Award nominee for Big, as Hermie's pal, Oscy; 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.
The stage show's developmental world-premiere run in Chester, CT, played Aug. 10-Sept. 10, 2000. There, audiences cheered the comic and rueful musical so much that an extra week was added to the original run. During the Connecticut run, the creators of the new musical made changes and refinements to their show, cutting one song and adding a new one. The writers were in residence during the run. Kirshenbaum told PBOL (Dec. 29, 2000), "We couldn't have been happier in terms of audience response and industry observers in the two productions so far." By the end of the Norma Terris run, "Losing Track of Time," which has been recorded by Alice Ripley, was moved from Act Two to Act One and later renamed (to "Love Will Carry Me Through Time"). Also, a new tune, "Our Story So Far," was added to Act Two, for the war-bride character, Dorothy. That song, plus a number for her called "Less Than Perfect," ended up being cut, with "Promise of the Morning" added instead.
Manhattan and regional readings of Summer of '42 preceded the Goodspeed staging. The tuner had readings in New York City and Ann Arbor, MI, in 1999. Nick Corley staged previous readings of Summer of '42.
For tickets and information on Summer of `42 at the Variety Arts heatre: 110 Third Ave, call (212) 239-6200.
— By David Lefkowitz
and Kenneth Jones