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A CurtainUp Review
Dear World

Nothing in the world is ever so wrong that a sensible woman can't set it right in the course of an afternoon.—. Aurelia
Dear World
Mary Gutzi, in Dear World (Photo: Susan Atkinson)
Jerry Herman has written some great songs for musicals like Mame and La Cage aux Folles, not to mention Hello Dolly and so I spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon a few miles north of Philadelphia along the Delaware River at the Bristol Riverside Theatre, known locally as BRT. The show I saw was Dear World (music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee, in a new version by David Thompson). It is based on The Madwoman of Chaillot in which the irresistible proprietress of a Parisian café fends off swindlers.

The musical sounds promising, but unfortunately the experience is another story. A musical might not need a lot of logic, but it does need a measure of coherence. Almost forty years ago the apparently bloated Broadway premiere failed. I imagine they must have overproduced it trying to find a way to tie it all together while masking the show's inadequacies. Although David Thompson's re-worked version may have jettisoned some excess, it fails to secure a solid center, removing all doubt as to this musical's viability.

Three company president-billionaires and a prospector hatch a plot to acquire oil, and the Countess Aurelia's café is threatened by disorganized utter nonsense. Much is amiss here, even with three new songs by Herman. Among the problems is direction so static that a pageant on a parade float might offer more activity. But let's recognize the bright spots.

In act one "I've Never Said I Love You" is sweetly sung by Nina (Katie Babb), who achieves a wholesome 40s look that would have fit right into the time frame of Giraudoux' original play. And a Mute (Noah Mazaika), who is barely necessary, breathes a whiff of needed life into this show through his charming simplicity.

The strongest scene is one in which the café's proprietress, Aurelia (Mary Gutzi) and her two batty friends Mme. Gabrielle (Patti Perkins) and Mme. Constance (Gwendolyn Jones) meet in her cellar for tea. Outrageously yet beautifully overdressed, the three women sing amusing songs about Gabrielle's invisible dog and Constance's lovers, whom she can remember and her husband, whom she can not.

Too often good points come inextricably tied to bad points. In order to have a love story to hang songs on, two available young people, who have barely exchanged glances much less words, are assured by Aurelia that they are in love. Late in act two the lovely song, "Kiss Her Now", caps their almost nonexistent love story. A scene change behind the couple's modest little waltz belatedly provides the only fluid, stage-wide theatrical movement in the entire show.

Dear World relies on the lead for any success at all in mustering centripetal force. In 1969 Angela Lansbury's performance as Aurelia in the original weak musical merited a Tony Award. Mary Gutzi as Aurelia certainly can sing, but she's not inclusive, rarely looking at her fellow actors when she speaks to them and addressing most of her lines out to a mid-distance, essentially delivering a solo performance.

A stained glass theme in the colorful set design was perhaps picked up from a line in the book about the windows of Notre Dame. If the café were all lighted up from inside, it might have glowed like a tiffany lamp or a house made of clear candy. Unfortunately the large attractive café set piece consumes a great deal of the stage in act one. Perhaps the resulting shortage of performance space is one reason for the stagnancy, as characters mostly stand around and wait while others speak or sing their parts.

A tie-in to current environmental concerns might have been a reason why this musical was chosen for production. In the simplistic title song, "Dear World", the ladies express the notion that the world is a patient in need of curing and they hope it will "be a dear world and get well soon."

All in all, Dear World remains thin fare in a too large package, a musical in search of a raison d'etre. It died on Broadway almost 40 years ago, and I'm afraid it should have been tagged "do not resuscitate."

Dear World
Music & lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
Directed by Keith Baker
Music Direction by Mark Yurkanin

Cast: Katie Babb, Kenneth Boys, Ryan Driscoll, Mary Gutzi, Gwendolyn Jones, Ben Kramer, Alan Kutner, Steve Luker, Noah Mazaika, P. Brendan Mulvey, Patti Perkins, George Reilly, Gene Terruso
Scenic Design: Nels Anderson
Choreography: Gregory Daniels
Costume Design: Lisa Zinni
Lighting Design: Scott Pinkney
Bristol Riverside Theatre. Radcliffe St. Bristol, PA
Running time 2 hours and 15 mins with one 15 min intermission
04/29/08 – 05/18/08 Opening 05/01
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 05/04 performance
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Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook


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