“They’ve done it again” has by now become a cliché in our reviews of musicals at the venerable Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT. In the case of the season’s first offering, “Good News!” we need to adjust the cliché to “They’ve all done it again.”
This 1927 show fits perfectly into the ambiance of the opera house. The book by Laurence Schwab, B.G. DeSylva and Frank Mandel was adapted for today’s audiences by Jeremy Desmon, and still retains its jazz-age razzle-dazzle. The production has no problem in making us believe that the light and frothy action is taking place at Tait College (somewhere in Connecticut) back in the era of the Charleston and the Varsity Drag.
The actor/singer/dancers; music team, production and technical staff at Goodspeed Musicals have put that expected extra zing into this first-rate production. The fun that everyone is having onstage is palpable.
The young effervescent cast projects the joyous exuberance of youth, counterpoint to a mature, crystal-voiced Beth Glover as Professor Kenyon and gruff-on the-surface Mark Zimmerman as Coach. They don’t miss a beat in the high energy department. This duo adds sugar as well as spice to their duet, ‘You’re The Cream In My Coffee,’ a flirtatious gem about mature love.
Everyone onstage shines – we’re talking a flawless ensemble here. Yes, there are standout performances: Ross Lekites as football hero Tom has an engaging charm and a terrific voice which he uses to its best advantage in the ballad ‘If You Haven’t Got Love.’ Tessa Faye as the class sexpot, Babe, not only knocks the socks (and the pants) off the football team, but she also seduces the audience with her provocative ‘I Want To Be Bad’ revelation. Tessa has definitely got ‘it’ to become a first-rank star. When Babe joins forces with Barry Shafrin as Bobby, their vaudeville-style number, ‘Button Up Your Overcoat,’ is right up there with all the great headliners past and present. Think a young Donald O’Connor and Elaine Stritch.
The first act song and dance finale, led by Bobby and Babe, is a rousing ‘Varsity Drag’ which has been staged with precision by director/choreographer Vince Pesce. He again makes the tiny Goodspeed stage seem as expansive as Radio City Music Hall.
Here is the true meaning of ensemble work. Each performer is a star on that stage and can claim ownership of a rave personal notice for superb vocalizations and expertise in fluid dance from these critics. The night we saw it, the audience agreed, with an ovation for ‘Varsity Drag’ that went on for minutes, as did the final curtain call.
The gorgeous voices of Chelsea Morgan Stock as Connie and Lindsay O’Neil as Pat are matched in a different register by the male voices of Max Perlman as the loveable coach’s assistant Pooch, and Myles J. Mc Hale as Babe’s dumb muscle-bound boyfriend, Beef.
Perlman shines with the guys in a spirited ‘Keep Your Sunny Side Up’ and Mc Hale’s lament, ‘Here Am I, Broken-Hearted,’ gives Beef a chance to show his sensitive side in an endearing comedic way.
Technically, “Good News!” is an example of all the pieces fitting exactly right into the puzzle. Court Watson’s scenic design makes the most of using various levels to give the small stage the illusion of depth and height. The architecturally symmetrical stage surround and the giant painted footballers on the scrim set the tone for the show.
Working in that style, Tracy Christensen has designed colorful and fun costumes for the students and subtly sexy uniforms for the football players. Wigs and hair by Mark Adam Rampmeyer are mostly great, with the only missed notes here being both the costumes and hair of Professor Kenyon and Connie. A dash of double dowdiness might have made those characters clash more dramatically with the stylishness of the sorority girls. Small point.
Clear flawless sound by Jay Hilton, precision on-cue lighting by Charlie Morrison, masterful orchestrations by Dan DeLange combined with the superb musical direction of Michael O’Flaherty with the assistance of William J. Thomas all come together beautifully in a symphony of technical and musical perfection. Partnered with the always brilliant direction and choreography of Vince Pesce in association with Jen Jenkins and the dance arrangements by David Krane, these Goodspeed Musicals collaborators are as finely honed as a winning football team. Each ‘play’ is executed with skill, daring and precision.
“Good News!” is an uplifting and invigorating antidote to everyday care and woes. It’s the ideal 50th anniversary opening show to experience a Goodspeed Musical as its best, which is always the top.
Now playing through June 22 at the Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT.
For tickets call 860 873-8668 or go to www.goodspeed.org
Written by Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle