Los Angeles Theater Review: DEAR WORLD (Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge)

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by Tony Frankel on October 6, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


1969. The final year in what was one of the most turbulent decades in American history. The battle between counterculture dissidents and the corporate establishment could melt lead, and in the middle the blood was drained from the ideal Ozzie and Harriet family and the U.S. was headed to a most uncertain future. No wonder the American Musical followed suit. In between the rock musical Hair (1968) and the opening of the Declaration of Independence musical 1776 (March, 1969) came a Jerry Herman show that tried but failed to amalgamate a timely anti-establishment theme with a lamentation for an earlier time when life was glamorous, unlike the late ’60s.

tyne-dalyDear World, a musical adaptation of Jean Giraudoux’s fantasy/comedy play The Madwoman of Chaillot (which had been a Broadway hit in the late ’40s as translated by Maurice Valency), brought together many of the principals from the 1966 hit Mame, including composer Herman, book writers Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, and star Angela Lansbury. The critics roundly trounced nearly everything about Dear World except Angela Lansbury’s performance, for which she would win a Tony Award. It would prove to be a bad mix of talented creators and good source material that just weren’t suited to each other, closing after 132 performances.

Surprisingly, last week’s concert version starring Tyne Daly at the Valley Performing Arts Center was delightful, and a reminder that even the wonkiest of rarely produced musicals far outshines the current crop of bad pop known as Broadway. The still-lopided book, tinkered here by David Thompson, tells of Countess Aurelia (a perfectly cast Daly, never overplaying her craziness), who discovers some greedy, unpleasant men who plan on turning Paris into a cobweb of derricks, considering that oil was discovered under a Paris café. With her cohort the Sewerman (Steven Weber, swaggeringly stealing the spotlight with ease) and the approval of two looney friends (Vicki Lewis and Bets Malone), Aurelia has her comeuppance with the evildoers. The industrialists — the Presidents One (E.E. Bell), Two (Michael Shepperd) and Three (James Leo Ryan) — have a grand time being bad, executing barbershop harmonies in their waltzing odes to odiousness, “Just A Little Bit More” and “The Spring of Next Year.” As Julian, the President’s reluctant lackey who winds up siding with the Countess and her flock, Zachary Ford possesses a sweet tenor and a yearning quality that steals your heart. As his love interest, the waitress Nina, Brandi Burkhardt offers a silvery soprano in “I’ve Never Said I Love You.”

Herman gamely used plenty of French-sounding accordion music (we were treated to Phillip Lang’s original orchestrations by Conductor Darryl Archibald and a 25-piece orchestra) and wrote a title song that was clearly intended to have the same pop appeal as Hello, Dolly! and Mame, as well as one of his trademark march songs, “One Person.” He also came up with the seven-minute “The Tea Party,” a colloquy among crazy women that was far from his usual style. But he was most at home, and most successful, with the sentimental ballad “And I Was Beautiful” and the defiant waltz “I Don’t Want to Know,” in which the madwoman rejects reality because, well, it just isn’t fabulous enough.

Unlike staged concert readings in which songs are memorized and there’s a bit of choreography, director David Lee’s production, produced by Suzi Dietz, was purely music-stand readings with suggestive costumes. I’m afraid this musical can never be fixed, but with that knockout cast it was a most enchanting evening.

no production photos available
photo of Tyne Daley by Joan Marcus

Dear World
Valley Performing Arts Center
in association with Canon Theatricals
18111 Nordhoff Street in Northridge
played September 30, 2016
for future events, call 818.677.3000 or visit VPAC

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