The current show of Walpole Footlighters 86th season is "The King of Hearts". The show is a 1978 musical with a book by Joseph Stein, lyrics by Jacob Brackman and music by Peter Link. It is based on the 1960's anti-war cult film of the same name. It is set in the fictional French town of Du Temps in September, 1918, shortly before the end of World War 1, its protagonist is Private Johnny Able, whose mission is to defuse a bomb intended to destroy the entire village. All the local residents have fled, leaving behind the cheerful inmates of the insane asylum, who happily take over the town and proclaim Johnny as their King of Hearts. Johnny is quickly charmed by the essential goodness and innocence of the people of St. Anne's. The show raises the question of who is more disturbed, the asylum patients or those who wage war. The theme of pro-love is prevalent in this show including a gay couple as is the anti-war theme from the 1960's. Director Barbara Pettis infuses this show with the humor and pathos needed with her 19 topnotch performers. Musical director David Tiedman taught this talented cast the 14 musical numbers and choreographer Danielle Clougher creates the dance numbers for the show. Their combined efforts create a musical treat for the audience to savor and they are rewarded with a thunderous ovation at the close of the night.
Barbara blocks the show splendidly so that the performers can be seen at all times. She gives her cast insight into these off kilter characters, making the audience empathize with them. One of the funniest moments comes when the inmates think rifles are cameras. David not only taught these beautiful songs to the cast but leads his three piece combo while playing the piano, too. The harmonies soar in the group numbers. Some of Danielle's dances include a kick-line, a waltz and vaudeville style number. Barbara's husband Roger created a gorgeous storybook set for the many scenes and Kate Smith made the gorgeous costumes. Johnny is played by Ben Medeiros who has brown hair and blue eyes winning the hearts of all the women in the audience. He uses his marvelous baritone voice in "Close Upon the Hour" which is a rousing number about trying to rescue the inmates, "Hey, Look at Me, Mrs. Draba which is about his old high school geometry teacher with them doing a vaudeville style dance to it and "March, March, March" where he finally rescues them. He also sings "Nothing, Only Love" with Ashley Harmon. This song is a gorgeous ballad which brings tears to your eyes as does the last group number "A Day in Our Life". Jeunefille is the girl who falls in love with Johnny is played wonderfully by Ashley who is a gorgeous brunette. Her soprano voice entrances you all night long. Ashley has many comic moments as this naive girl but when she remembers her real name while telling Johnny about her mother's death it tugs your heartstrings at its poignancy. This scene and the one near the end of the second act make this show a heartwarming one. Her father, Genevieve is comically played by Bill Bowen He sings "Deja Vu" the "Transformation" where he and the inmates put on the clothes they find in the trunk. He tells why he was thrown into the insane asylum after his wife's death. His character falls in love with Madeline and they also sing the poignant "Nothing Only Love". Elaine Bono tackles the role of Madeline, the worldly courtesan and makes her the madam with the heart of gold. She uses her fabulous soprano voice and sings "Deja Vu", "Down at Madeline's" and "Somewhere Is Here". The girls do a can-can to the whorehouse number. One of her funniest moments comes when other characters call her nice. While the tres gay barber is played by Stephen Lee who is a hoot in this role. He is one of the biggest scene stealers in this show. The bishop played by George Motely leads the chorus in the coronation number, "A Brand New Day". He has many comic lines, too. Evie Rayburg and Marty West play the Duchess and Duke and lead the inmates in "A Day in the Life" which makes the audience cry at its tenderness. Another outstanding performer is Matt Burns as Demosthenes who is a clown-like mute who does a wonderful pantomime in this role. A tear jerking song is sung by the soldiers, "Going Home Tomorrow". The inmates sing songs like the rousing "Stain on the Name of Saint Ann" where they do a kick-line to it at the finale (it sounds like I Could Have Danced All Night"), "Now We Need to Cry" and A Day in Our Life" and they convince the audience that their outlook on life is the correct one. So for a look back at an intriguing musical about World War 1 that will have you laughing one minute and crying the next, be sure to catch "King of Hearts" in Walpole.