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A CurtainUp Review
The musical sounds promising, but unfortunately the experience is another story. A musical might not need a lot of logic, but it does need a measure of coherence. Almost forty years ago the apparently bloated Broadway premiere failed. I imagine they must have overproduced it trying to find a way to tie it all together while masking the show's inadequacies. Although David Thompson's re-worked version may have jettisoned some excess, it fails to secure a solid center, removing all doubt as to this musical's viability.
Three company president-billionaires and a prospector hatch a plot to acquire oil, and the Countess Aurelia's café is threatened by disorganized utter nonsense. Much is amiss here, even with three new songs by Herman. Among the problems is direction so static that a pageant on a parade float might offer more activity. But let's recognize the bright spots.
In act one "I've Never Said I Love You" is sweetly sung by Nina (Katie Babb), who achieves a wholesome 40s look that would have fit right into the time frame of Giraudoux' original play. And a Mute (Noah Mazaika), who is barely necessary, breathes a whiff of needed life into this show through his charming simplicity.
The strongest scene is one in which the café's proprietress, Aurelia (Mary Gutzi) and her two batty friends Mme. Gabrielle (Patti Perkins) and Mme. Constance (Gwendolyn Jones) meet in her cellar for tea. Outrageously yet beautifully overdressed, the three women sing amusing songs about Gabrielle's invisible dog and Constance's lovers, whom she can remember and her husband, whom she can not.
Too often good points come inextricably tied to bad points. In order to have a love story to hang songs on, two available young people, who have barely exchanged glances much less words, are assured by Aurelia that they are in love. Late in act two the lovely song, "Kiss Her Now", caps their almost nonexistent love story. A scene change behind the couple's modest little waltz belatedly provides the only fluid, stage-wide theatrical movement in the entire show.
Dear World relies on the lead for any success at all in mustering centripetal force. In 1969 Angela Lansbury's performance as Aurelia in the original weak musical merited a Tony Award. Mary Gutzi as Aurelia certainly can sing, but she's not inclusive, rarely looking at her fellow actors when she speaks to them and addressing most of her lines out to a mid-distance, essentially delivering a solo performance.
A stained glass theme in the colorful set design was perhaps picked up from a line in the book about the windows of Notre Dame. If the café were all lighted up from inside, it might have glowed like a tiffany lamp or a house made of clear candy. Unfortunately the large attractive café set piece consumes a great deal of the stage in act one. Perhaps the resulting shortage of performance space is one reason for the stagnancy, as characters mostly stand around and wait while others speak or sing their parts.
A tie-in to current environmental concerns might have been a reason why this musical was chosen for production. In the simplistic title song, "Dear World", the ladies express the notion that the world is a patient in need of curing and they hope it will "be a dear world and get well soon."
All in all, Dear World remains thin fare in a too large package, a musical in search of a raison d'etre. It died on Broadway almost 40 years ago, and I'm afraid it should have been tagged "do not resuscitate."
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