The creators of the new musical Summer of '42 have been tweaking and refining their show during its world premiere run at Goodspeed-at Chester/Norma Terris Theatre, cutting one song and adding a new one.
The developmental run in Chester, CT, ends Sept. 10, and there were still tickets available as of Sept. 8, but audiences have cheered the comic and rueful musical so much that an extra week was added to the Aug. 10-Sept. 3 original run. The tuner, directed by Gabriel Barre, draws on Herman Raucher's 1971 screenplay and earlier novel of the same name. Audience interest prompted the week extension.
A spokesperson for Goodspeed said the collaborators Hunter Foster (book) and David Kirshenbaum (music and lyrics) have been in residence, and have been refining and rewriting.
"Losing Track of Time," which has been recorded by Alice Ripley, has been moved from Act Two to Act One and a new tune, "Our Story So Far," has been added to Act Two, for the war-bride character, Dorothy. A number for her called "Less Than Perfect" has been cut.
The sentimental crowd-pleaser, about a 15-year-old boy's summer adventures with his pals on an island in Maine during the summer of 1942, stars Idina Menzel (Rent) as a lonely war bride who has a life changing encounter with teenage Hermie (played by Ryan Driscoll, making his professional debut). It was announced Aug. 30 that the hit staging (with a cast of eight) will transfer to the Victoria Theatre in Dayton, OH, Oct. 10-22.
Goodspeed is producing the transfer with the set and cast — including Idina Menzel — intact (although the scenic elements will be augmented). For Dayton ticket information, call (937) 228-3630.
The Ohio booking will be the first time the show faces critics. As a developmental space, Goodspeed-at-Chester has a gentleman's agreement with critics and the works-in-progress there are not reviewed, despite a tendency toward sold-out houses and star names.
Conceivably, other regional presenters could attend the Dayton booking and express interest in bookings in their markets. Observers have suggested the warm, humorous, bittersweet 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.
The Ohio move was arranged with Dione Kennedy, managing director of the Victoria, a 1,100-seat touring house in Dayton. Kennedy came to Chester, CT, for the current developmental run of the show at Goodspeed's intimate, 200-seat Norma Terris Theatre, and thought her audience would embrace it.
Other producers such as Barry and Fran Weissler, Edgar Dobie and Tom and Jack Viertel have also come to sample the show in Connecticut.
Goodspeed technicians are investigating how the scenic elements of the show (lighting by Timothy Hunter and set by James Youmans) might be expanded for the larger Ohio space. Pamela Scofield is costume designer and Lynne Shankel is musical director.
The cast also includes 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.
Hunter Foster is the New York actor who has appeared in the recent Grease! revival and Footloose. 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.
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 Summer of '42 preceded the Goodspeed developmental staging, which is a full production minus the pressure of reviewers.
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. Actor Driscoll is a high school senior from Deep River, CT. The tuner had readings in New York City and Ann Arbor, MI, in 1999.
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."
Goodspeed tickets are $29. 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