Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Happy Time

photo: Stan Barouh

This infrequently revived 1966 Kander & Ebb musical (now at Signature's small black box Ark theatre, in Virginia) has been given a warm and intimate production that renders the earnest, tuneful score with just three musicians. The low-key, chamber-musical approach allows the charms of the simple intergenerational story to play out gently, without much fuss: it emphasizes the bittersweet, quiet nostalgia of the material. That goes a long way toward disguising that the book (newly restored to include cuts made before and after the original Broadway production) is amiable and pleasant but more than a little pat. Also, it too heavily favors the world-weary photographer who returns home to his quaint French-Canadian village rather than the impressionable nephew he dazzles and leads astray: the story would have more emotional resonance if we saw more of it through the adolescent's eyes. Nonetheless the show - besides boasting an often lovely lesser-known score - is enjoyable and well-performed: although Michael Minirik (as the photographer) could stand to put more zip in his early scenes when we're meant to see that his character's worldliness excites the nephew, his performance is otherwise strong and natural; Carrie A. Johnson is sweet in her "girl left behind" role without being sticky; as the nephew, Jace Casey is charming and free of child-actor preciousness. Best of all is David Margulies, whose seasoned know-how as the boy's grandfather is at all times a joy to behold.

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