The Director of Master Class Creates a Musical Gem, Dreamland, From Three Dozen Harold Arlen Songs

By Elyse Sommer

For most people the tag "world premiere" means the first performance with the implicit promise that the show will be seen in other venues. I certainly hope that's the case with Dreamland which is having an all-too-brief world premiere production at the Sharon Stage in Sharon, Connecticut. As conceived and directed by Leonard Foglia, this new musical unfolds the romantic fantasies of six young people to the music of Harold Arlen in the Dreamland Ballroom, circa 1939. This is quite a departure from Foglia's Tony Award-winning directorial hit, Master Class which was all talk with just a smidgeon of singing. Dreamland, on the other hand, relies on the six-star cast to deliver a fully realized story of three love hungry couples without any spoken dialogue.

And with songs like these who needs dialogue? The thirty-six bouncy, stick-to-the-mind songs include hits like "Get Happy," "Accentuate the Positive," and "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "Stormy Weather." Lyricists whose collaborations with Arlen are represented include Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, E.Y Harburg, Ted Koehler, Jack Yellen (and, yes, Truman Capote).

The dancing couple, Deborah Leamy and Jim Osorino, are superb, and the four singers do full justice to the material and get better with each tune. The leisurely start-up pace builds to its full crescendo during the "For Every Man There's A Woman" duet with Leamy and Osorino dancing in the background. Credit is also due Michael McGarty's handsome fluid turn-around set. I loved the Rousseau-like motifs introduced during the "House of Flowers" sequences. A minor and easy-to-fix problem --the suit jackets of two of the otherwise excellent band members sometimes protrude distractingly from the center panel of the scrim. A minor triumph -- the whimsical sprite with concertina (Kele Baker) who acts as a humorous, dancing leitmotif throughout the clever Parisian scenes. The "C'est La Vie" number with Thos, Jim and Deborah wrapped (and unwrapped with a pert hint of nudity) in a silky French flag is the most fun--or is it "When Buds Won't Bud" (and "dreams won't come true and knicks won't knack")? It's hard to single out one or two from this feast of oldies but goodies. Whatever your favorites, the show as a whole will leave you smiling and tapping your feet. Even the bittersweet finale to the Natalie-Thos romance won't dim the joyful glitter of the stars that floats across the stage and over the audience near the show's end.

Coming as it does at the end of a summer which had the Berkshire region humming with theater activity, it's not too early to say that this is about a good as a summer theater production can get. Dreamland is a thoroughly professional musical, that showcases Harold Arlen's built-in jazz rhythms in a completely new and completely modern format. What another small musical,"The World Goes Round," did for the music of Kander and Ebb, this revue might well do for Arlen. And so, a word of advice to Foglia and his company: Buy lots of the Harold Arlen stamps scheduled for release by the U.S. Post Office a week after Labor Day. You may need them for announcements that the show had enough legs to dance its way to Broadway or off-Broadway for a much longer run than the current one.

Music by Harold Arlen
Lyrics by Truman Capote, Ira Gershwin, E.Y. Harburg, Ted Koehler, Johnny Mercer, Leo robin, Jack Yellen
Conceived and Directed by Leonard Foglia
Sharon Stage
Sharon, CT (860)365-1500
Through September 2

© Elyse Sommer, August 25, 1996
This review was done as Berkshire theater critic for AisleSay. Elyse Sommer's 1997 reviews of Berkshire summer theater will appear at both Aisle Say aCurtainUp

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