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A CurtainUp Review
Happy Birthday

"Hello Addie. I didn’t recognize you. I guess we all have to get old."— Bella
Happy Birthday
Mary Bacon and Ron McClary (Photo by Hunter Canning)
Happy Birthday comes to The Actors Company Theater (TACT) with an excellent pedigree. Hollywood script writer and novelist Anita Loos, best known for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, wrote it for her friend Helen Hayes, who wanted to appear in a contemporary comedy as a change from period dramas.

Opening at the Broadhurst Theater in 1946 Happy Birthday was directed by Joshua Logan and featured a song written for the show, “I Haven't Got a Worry in the World,” with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein and James Livingston. It ran for 564 performances and earned Hayes a Tony for her role as Addie.

When it comes to romantic comedies, they don’t make them any better. And TACT has kept all the effervescent joy and ironic humor of the genre in this delightful revival, directed by Scott Alan Evans.

The time is April, 1946. The place is the Mecca Cocktail Bar in Newark, NJ, carefully reconstructed by set designer Brett J. Banakis with a jukebox, celebrity photos, bistro tables and lots of wood.

Gail Hosmer (Karen Ziemba) is the tough but kindhearted owner, who runs the bar with headwaiter Dad Malone (James Prendergast) and Herman the bartender (Ron McClary). Their customers are an interesting group of barflies.

Gabe Darcy (Joe Tippett) and his girlfriend Bella Lane (Hanna Cheek) are trying to figure out how they can get a cheap divorce so Gabe can marry Bella before the baby arrives. Tot (Darrie Lawrence) and Emma (Nora Chester) are two alcoholic biddies who enjoy gossip as much as they love their booze. Myrtle (Margot White) is a lonely young lady who’s spending her birthday alone because her boyfriend is spending the evening with his wife. Maude Carson (Victoria Mack) is a shopgirl who’s hedging her bets by trying to get the nice-guy bank teller Paul Bishop (Todd Gearhart) to marry her at the same time she’s having an affair with Mr. Nanino (Joseph Masi), her married boss.

Addie Bemis (Mary Bacon), a prim and pure librarian, is not a barfly. She’s come into the Mecca Cocktail Bar to find Paul and tell him to watch out. Her father, convinced she’s about to run off with the blameless man, is looking for him with malicious intent. The truth is that Addie would like nothing better than to run off with Paul, as becomes apparent after she has imbibed a few Pink Ladies.

The Pink Ladies do more than release Addie’s libido. Under their influence she wows everyone in the bar when she takes the mic and belts out Rodgers and Hammerstein's “I Haven’t Got a Worry in the World.” When Gail’s son, Don (Tom Berklund) and his girlfriend June (Lesley Shires) attempt a tango, Addie quickly pushes June aside and, in the wink of an eye, executes all the steps as if she’s just come back from Argentina.

Although this is a truly splendid supporting cast, the play belongs to Bacon. Her mercuric transformation from a shy, wallflower who enters the bar with hesitation and distaste to an exuberant vamp out to get her man is a pure joy to watch.

Gearhart is also solid as the somewhat confused and naive romantic lead. And this reviewer simply adored Lawrence and Chester as the delicious biddies.

Happy Birthday is the kind of play that begs for the lament “They don’t make them like that anymore.” This may be true, but fortunately, TACT is still staging them, and hopefully always will.

Happy Birthday by Anita Loos
Directed by TACT Co-Artistic Director Scott Alan Evans
Cast: Karen Ziemba (Gail Hosmer), James Prendergast (Dad Malone), Joe Tippett (Gabe Darcy), Hanna Cheek (Bella Lane), Ron McClary (Herman), Margot White (Myrtle), Lesley Shires (June), Mary Bacon (Addie Bemis), Victoria Mack Maude Carson), Tom Berklund (Don Hosmer), Anderson Matthews (The Judge/ Homer Bemis), Todd Gearhart (Paul Bishop), Joseph Masi (Policeman/Mr. Nanino), Darrie Lawrence (Tot), Nora Chester (Emma)
Sound Design & Original Music: Bart Fasbender
Music Direction & Original Music: James Cunningham
Lighting Design: Paul Hackenmueller
Costume Design: Campbell Baird
Scenic Design: Brett J. Banakis
Choreography: Valerie Wright
TACT at Theater Row Beckett Theater 410 W. 42nd St. (212) 239-6200
From 3/12/13; opening 3/21/13; closing 4/21/13
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 & 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m, special performance April 10 at 2:00 p.m.
Tickets: $20 - $58 or (212) 239-6200
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 19, 2013
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