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[whitespace] 'Summer of '42'
Teen Horror Flick: Celia Keenan-Bolger and Ryan Driscoll don't seem to enjoy their first date as much as Megan Valerie Walker and Brett Tabisel.

Musical Marvel

TheatreWorks' 'Summer of '42' satisfies a critic's every need

By Michael J. Vaughn

IT'S CONFESSION TIME. Every critic carries a set of personal aesthetic standards to go along with the supposed "objective" standards of good theater. When it comes to musicals, this little list of mine doubles in ferocity. As a genre, the American musical has earned this treatment. So many of its children are sappy cockeyed optimists that ignore the mandates of art that say perhaps you should address some perspective outside that of a wannabe Broadway hoofer. Once in a while, however, some production comes along and picks off every little item on my list, and I'm left a little stunned. Such a production is TheatreWorks' Summer of '42. Let's look at it item by item.

Let the music reflect the culture. David Kirshenbaum's score applies a brilliant palette of styles, using a teenage version of the Andrews Sisters (Megan Valerie Walker, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Erin Webley) as a kind of swingin' Greek chorus. As well as bringing forth the great jazz and boogie-woogie music of the era, the device provides rich vocal harmonies. The composer's more contemporary songsmithings are equally as innovative. A fine example is an afternoon conversation between 15-year-old Hermie (Ryan Driscoll) and war bride Dorothy (Kate Jennings Grant) that reads as a kind of operatic recitative. The device grants the scene a lyric quality perfectly reflecting the heightened state brought on by first love.

For God's sake, stretch the envelope. This occurs in Hunter Foster's book, which takes Herman Raucher's 1971 novel and allows its hysterically accurate reading of teenage male hormones to fly with a 21st-century candidness. The master stroke arrives when pharmacist Mr. Sanders (Bill Kux) responds to Hermie's tortured request for rubbers by pulling out a spinning Wurlitzer display of different brands, colors and sizes. In an earlier scene, the sight of Hermie's pal Oscy (Brett Tabisel) openly groping Miriam's (Walker's) breasts in a movie theater made me feel downright uncomfortable.

Give joy and sadness equal play. Hermie discovers the glory of first love in beautiful, charming Dorothy, but finds the price is having to feel Dorothy's great loneliness and grief as if they were his own. The audience gets equal treatment. At the same time that Hermie's over-rehearsed repartee with Dorothy is cracking us up, we're receiving visceral reminders of our own excruciating moments of adolescent awkwardness.

Director Gabriel Barre has honed an excellent cast to fine points, beginning with Driscoll, who plays Hermie with delicious comic timing and strong vocals. The "terrible trio" is rounded out by Tabisel's Oscy, a bull's-eye archetype of the "cool friend" who seemed to know everything about girls; and Jason Marcus as Benjie, so crippled by the female presence that he screams and runs offstage at the very sight of a girl. Grant embodies everything we had to sacrifice to win World War II, delivering her sorrow with a sense of under-the-skin tragedy. She's got a gorgeous voice and knows how to apply it. The final nod goes back to our teenage sirens, who in costumer Pamela Scofield's natty adornments look so adorable it makes your teeth hurt. Double that for Walker, whose big, craftily deployed eyes should be registered as lethal weapons.

Summer of '42 plays through Tuesday at 7:30pm, Wednesday (except July 4)-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday (July 8) at 7pm, with Saturday matinees (July 7 and 14) at 2pm and Sunday matinees at 2pm through July 15 at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Mercy and Castro streets, Mountain View. Tickets are $20-$40. (650.903.6000)

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From the June 28-July 4, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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