Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Where's Charley?"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark


"Where's Charley?"

Book by George Abbott
Based on Brandon Thomas' "Charley's Aunt"
Music & Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Directed by Mickey Coburn
Choreography by Michelle Chasse
Musical Direction by Jay Atwood

Set Design Janie E. Howland
Costume Designed by Jana Durland Howland
Lighting Design by John R. Malinowski
Stage Manager Christie Orabuena

Charley Wykeham....................................Matt Bauer
Amy Spettigue.......................................Lauren Kling
Jack Chesney.....................................Douglas Horner
Kitty Verdun......................................Katie H. Adams
Sir Francis Chesney............................Darren Dunstan
Mr. Spettigue........................................Chris Carfizzi
Donna Lucia D'Alvadores.........Margaret McCormick
Brassett................................................Booth Daniels
Wilkinson................................................James Kirby
Photographer..................................Thomas Dunleavy
Reggie.................................................Benjie Randall

Female Ensemble
Heather Boekhoff, Karen Christensen, Kolina Janneck, Kristina Nilles, Francesca
Male Ensemble
Ray Connolly, John Michael Dias, Thomas Dunleavy, Adam Hetrick, James Kirby, Eric Lesh, Billy Mason, DeMond Nason, Benjie Randall, Ryan Shaw

Orchestra
Violins
Young Shin Choi, Li-Ling Liao, Vilde Aslid, Yi-Liang Shy, Choon-Keon Oh, Claire Smith
Violas
Bing Liu, Li Ly
Cello, Andrea Jensen
Bass, hia-Chen Wu
Flute/ Piccolo, Kenji Kikuchi
Oboe/English Horn, Lisa Arbitro
Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Melissa Caldwell
Clarinet, Pei-Fang Ho
Bassoon, Lori Holmes
Horns
Robert Fant, Peter Huitzacua Erik Warme, Jason Brenner, Katie Bowes
Trombone, Chris Desrocher
Percussion, Gretchen Hary
Piano, Maura Brigham


Fift years ago George Abbott, Frank Loesser and Ray Bolger brought Brandon Thomas' perennial farce "Charlie's Aunt" back to life as a charming musical. And fifty years later to the night, the Boston Conservatory has brought "Where's Charley?" back to life with all its charms and most of its surprises refreshingly intact..

The Book is held together with safety-pins and duct-tape, and at its best where Abbott stole from or lyrically amplified the original, in which poor Charley Wykeham must be himself as well as pretend to be his rich, eccentric aunt or else, left with no chaperone, the girl he loves will be torn away before he can propose --- because this is Oxford, England, 1892. That sends Matt Bauer's Charley dashing offstage every few minutes to dress, or undress.

It helps a lot that Bauer is seven feet tall, weighs a shade under ninety pounds, has bones of wet spaghetti, and fills Ray Bolger's tap-shoes much better than anyone so energetically young should --- or at least he seems so. And he bends gender so expertly the only reason the audience is not as taken in is that they're in on the joke.

Lauren Kling is Amy --- the girl Charley is "Once In Love With..." She has wickedly winsome eyebrows, tears emotion to tatters first loving then hating her beau in the surprising tour-de-force "The Woman in His Room" and sings and dances divinely with Bauer. In fact, in Jane Durland Howland's fully-flounced faintly-bustled shirt-waist dresses, all the girls have a hint of Agnes DeMille in Michelle Chasse's whirling choreography.

Douglas Horner and Katie H. Adams play Jack and Kitty --- a less complicated couple of hero's-friends equally smitten and equally eager for solitude enough to get The Question popped. As the irascible Scottish guardian of Kitty and uncle of Amy, Chris Carfizzi starts out forbidding the girls marriage, but ends up kittenishly proposing to the bank-accounts of Charley's spurious aunt. Darren Dunstan as Jack's father tries to hunt that fortune himself, but is distracted by Margaret McCormick playing a lost love re-entering his life twenty years later, who turns out to be...

But enough of plot! It's just an excuse, anyway, to keep lovers temporarily frustrated, to keep character dashing off and on stage in various new costumes, and to hang the set-piece songs and dances on. And Director Mickey Coburn certainly keeps this cast swiftly, swirlingly, charmingly in motion. Janie E. Howland has provided a multi-level set all in spring-greens, with an olio-drop behind which it changes from interior to exterior to ballroom, all under John R. Malinowski's (patent-pending) leafy lighting effects.

In fact, the only very sour note in this production is, oddly enough, the Boston Conservatory orchestra. "If you're analytical, musical or critical, you'll like them more the farther back you stand," say the lyrics of one song, quite aptly. Luckily Musical Director and Guest Conductor Jay Atwood keeps them from tripping up the singers, but that may be because the zealous miking-system lets the singing drown them out whenever possible.

But "Where's Charley?" is a musical romp that celebrates youth and innocence even in the middle-aged. When it was new the Book-musical was new and anything went. Mickey Coburn has siezed on the incongruous Brazilian fantasy "Pernambuco" that ends Act One and turned it into a jaw-dropping show-stopper with calypso-tummies, edible headgear, and interchangeable personae --- all just for the fun of it.

The fun of it was exactly what George Abbott had in mind. And, if the breakneck plot gets too hard to handle, there are fine Frank Loesser songs reinstated here that hardly anyone has heard in fifty years.

It's about time they were!

Love,
===Anon.


"Where's Charley?" (till 22 November)
BOSTON CONSERVATORY
Boston Conservatory Theater, 31 Hemenway Street, BOSTON
1(617)536-3063

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