note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Cambridge playwright Amy Merrill and renowned folk singer/activist Si Kahn’s two-hour romantic musical comedy, “Silver Spoon,” starts off engagingly at its world premiere at Central Square Theater, then loses some steam as the story drifts unrealistically at times.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s much to like here. In fact, many theatergoers enthusiastically delivered a standing ovation. The premise is clever, as are several of the songs - especially the lyrics. Merrill and Kahn enlisted Emmy Award-winning musical arranger Larry Hochman.
The cast is likable, appealing; Eric Levenson’s set is colorful and graffiti-laden; and three musicians (led by conductor-pianist Rodney Allan Bush) seated in a rear stage alcove are tuneful throughout.
The basic story is fun, too. Brooklyn native, college dropout Dan Horowitz, who’s leading the charge for poor, Mexican California farm workers, (even though he’s never been to California or met a farm worker), falls in love with Walden Free Press editor-writer Polly Bullock, who’s interviewing him for a story and joins his cause.
Unbeknownst to Danny, Polly is the granddaughter of Freddy Bullock, Wall Street mogul and head of Sunshine Foods, whom Danny is fighting and picketing. Dan’s also unaware that Polly, who adores her grandfather, secretly works for him at Bullock and Marsh during the day, as communications manager. Polly is surprised when Freddy announces suddenly that he’s grooming her to take over Sunshine Foods.
After a rousing ensemble anthem, “La Libertad,” a call to arms for united farm workers, the play opens with Polly and Dan rolling around in bed, delighting in each other, singing “Amazing,” even though they’ve just met. Their afternoon tryst is sharply interrupted when Dan’s mother, Marilyn, barges in.
Seeing Polly’s patrician, non-Jewish looks, perfect teeth, demeanor and sophisticated speech, Marilyn, is instantly - and rightfully - suspicious of Polly, saying, “She comes from big money”. Marilyn enlists an unseen guy named Saul to do research on Polly, to learn her real identity.
Danny’s campaign escalates, as does Polly’s grandfather’s defensive tactics, rising to a violent pitch, but eventually ending happily ever after for the couple.
Spritzled in-between are some implausible scenes between Marilyn and Freddy, perhaps to fit in a song or two, but creating detours of no return. Take, for example, when Marilyn, a card-carrying Communist-Stalinist (in 1969? Not likely), meets wealthy entrepreneur Freddy from the Upper East Side, and they cite their differences in “People Like Us”. She’s feisty, he’s intrigued, amused. He even invites Marilyn to spend the weekend with him in his Westport, Conn. home, which she declines.
The four outline their differences when they come together unexpectedly in a fancy restaurant, singing “Vichyssoise”.
Merrill’s lyrics are delightful, but Kahn’s music, although appealing, is challenging at times for the female performers, riffling up and down the scale. It would be helpful if the musicians transposed songs to suit their vocal ranges. Veteran performer Rena Baskin, (who is fabulous as Marilyn), strains to hit some notes, as does pretty Kara Manson, who delightfully portrays Polly. Baskin shines in her solo, “Washington Square,” when she fervently tells Polly why she became an ardent activist for laborers.
Boston Conservatory junior Edward T. Joy is precisely what his name implies - a joy. During romantic scenes, he and Manson click engagingly. They romp happily, kiss passionately, lovingly, staring adoringly into each other’s eyes - even after Danny realizes the girl of his dreams is from the other side of the river - on Park Avenue. And celebrated actor Peter Edmund Haydu as Freddy is impeccably sophisticated, then ruthless, when he leads a no-holds-barred counter-offensive “Remember the Alamo,” as Dan and his followers picket Freddy’s Manhattan building.
BOX INFO: World premiere of two-act, two-hour romantic musical comedy, written by Amy Merrill and Si Kahn, directed by Associate Director Daniel Gidron, appearing now through June 19 with the Nora Theatre Company, Central Square Theater, 450 Mass. Ave., Cambridge. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets are $40; seniors, $30; students, $25; student rush with valid college ID, $20. Post-show events, June 2,9. Visit www.centralsquaretheater.org or the Box Office or call 866-811-4111.