Corrections or additions?
These articles and reviews by Simon Saltzman were prepared for the
January 2, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Belle Mead to Broadway
On September 10, 16-year-old Jason Marcus of Belle
Mead sat in his classroom at Montgomery High School listening to his
history teacher and other students talk about historic events of their
lifetime that were indelibly impressed in their minds. For the
it was the sight of the Challenger exploding as it began its ill-fated
voyage to outer space. Whatever historical events Marcus recalled
in class were forever supplanted the next day with the destruction
of New York’s twin towers.
Marcus is not only a high school student. He is also a young actor
who plays the role of Benjie in "Summer of ’42," a new musical
adaptation of the novel and successful 1971 film which opened on
in December (see review below). He stopped worrying about
his ability to understand his fictional character — a teenager
growing up during World War II. Now, he says, he has a pretty good
handle on what life and love must have been like back then. And both
he and his character know that "coming of age" isn’t as easy
as it sounds.
At the center of "The Summer of ’42" is Hermie (played by
Ryan Driscoll), a young man who discovers adulthood with Dorothy (Kate
Jennings Grant), a beautiful young war bride. Marcus’s character,
Benjie, is Hermie’s nerdy friend, also in hot pursuit of experience.
Oscy is third member of the trio of teen boys vacationing on a New
England coastal island during the summer of ’42.
Area audiences have already had the pleasure of seeing an 11-year-old
Jason Marcus in "Lost in Yonkers" at the George Street
Before that, he played the boy Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol"
at McCarter Theater.
Marcus has been part of the "Summer of ’42" company since
its premiere in 2000, in Chester, Connecticut. A two-week run in
in Dayton, Ohio, was followed by engagements in Palo Alto, California,
and most recently at Connecticut’s Stamford Center for the Arts. But
as every actor knows, even if you are cast in a new show trying out
in regional theaters, there is no guarantee that the show will ever
get to New York — or that you will still be wanted when it does.
Today Marcus considers himself fortunate.
"It really helps to learn what works for the audience," says
Marcus, in a phone conversation from New York during a rehearsal
He says the show’s director and choreographer, Gabriel Barre, is
best I ever worked with."
"Our emotions are the soul of the show," says Marcus. "I
like playing the small theaters because we don’t have to project our
emotions so far. It’s more down to earth, and the audience can see
our facial expressions." He says he experienced plenty of
uncertainty wondering, during the out-of-town runs, whether the show
would ever get to New York. And the show has evolved during the
"Except for changing my first scene at least a hundred times,
my role is relatively the same," he says. Relieved that the show
is finally set, he says he still has the fear that he might forget
which change the cast is supposed to perform. He remembers with horror
the night when a changed cue sent every actor off on a different
Benjie is considered a supporting role, except, of course, to his
parents. And Marcus goes by the adage: "There are no small parts,
only small actors."
I ask Marcus how closely he could relate to the role of Benjie. Is
it so removed in time and spirit from what teenagers feel today?
"Although I think we all learn things younger these days, the
feelings of the teenagers in the show are almost identical and
to what teenagers feel today," he says. "It’s astonishing
that the events that are taking place in the show are like the events
taking place now."
As a young man who is planning on staying with theater as a career,
Marcus learned to keep reins on his hopes during the long waits
each production of "Summer of ’42."
"We were lucky that so many of the original cast was able to stay
with the show," he says. "We developed a strong sense of
His situation has been helped by the fact that he is to be able to
live with his aunt in her Manhattan apartment during the show’s New
Professional training is a must for the budding actor. Marcus praises
his New York acting coaches, Bob Luke and Ann Ratray, as well as his
voice teacher Matt Farnsworth, and vocal coach Michael Roberts.
the energy that Marcus brought to the stage in his role in "Lost
in Yonkers," I am not surprised when he mentions Robin Williams
and Billy Crystal as his favorite male stars.
This is just the kind of energy he enjoyed recently as an audience
member at a performance of Michael Frayn’s "Noises Off."
physical comedy in that play is so incredible. I was amazed that these
actors can perform the show eight times a week with all of the
falling, hitting, and energy it takes for every show," he says.
Equally important right now is the prescribed
program for Marcus at the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan.
"I haven’t been there yet because of the rehearsals," says
Marcus who is currently doing what is called "guided study"
with a tutor. He will attend school every day now that the show is
on a regular schedule.
He also hopes to get back to playing tennis, his favorite sport.
how much discipline it takes to be an excellent tennis player, he
says, "It takes just as much discipline to remember the exact
spot on the stage where you have to be. We don’t have follow spots
and the lighting is all computer programmed."
Evidently Marcus did not need any guidance to discover his love of
acting and the theater. "I think I was born with it," he says,
even though his father is an optometrist and his mother works as an
"You can see, I don’t have a show-business family," he says.
"But I was always performing for my family and relatives at
as well as taking part in plays in elementary and high school."
Since romance is at the heart of the story of "Summer of ’42,"
I ask Marcus if had started dating yet.
"Not yet, but I’m on the verge. If I were in `42nd Street’ with
all those chorus girls, I think my chances would be better. Even in
`Summer of ’42,’ the nerdy Benjie doesn’t get much, while the others
do." I suggest that once the show opens and girls start waiting
at the stage door things may begin to change.
While dating is on every teen’s mind, Marcus makes it clear that he
is also passionate about helping to effect a change and a cure for
children who suffer from muscular dystrophy. He is one of a committed
group of young people in show business who travel to schools,
and even cabarets with "Kid for Kids," a program designed
to entertain, educate, and raise funds and awareness for the disease.
Their performance in Washington, D.C., at a recent congressional
was responsible for getting a bill passed. All the proceeds from their
album "Generation for Change" go to help the project.
Is Marcus missing out on some fun during his teen years?
"I don’t want to think about stuff that I may have missed. What
I think about now is what is happening now and what will happen next
and it makes me a little tense," he says. "There was a point
soon after September 11 when the producers briefly considered
the production. However a decision to move ahead was spurred by
Mitchell Maxwell, who notes that, "Our show has extra resonance
because of recent events. We are living in a world on the edge of
war, and our show deals with the fragility of life."
After talking with the refreshingly bright and straightforward Marcus,
I have little doubt that while he thinks about the uncertainty and
fragility of life, as well as his own future as a young man just
to experience life, he mostly thinks about ways to help.
— Simon Saltzman
World War II is just six months old when three
boys discover the pleasures of the opposite sex during a summer
on a New England coastal island. As recalled in narrative fashion
years later by a grown-up Hermie, whose return to the island brings
back memories of his sexual initiation, the new musical adaptation
of the 1971 novel and successful film is a blatantly sentimental and
purposefully bittersweet valentine to first love. Poignancy receives
equal time with playful comedy and some flavorsome musical numbers
in this unpretentious new musical.
A very likeable melodic score by David Kirshenbaum and a better than
serviceable book by Hunter Foster propel the show. Although some may
find the songs, as well as the dialogue, a trifle on the quaint side,
they reflect their time as well as the temperament of the characters.
Led by their raging hormones around set designer James Youmans’ artful
sand and sky turf, the genially enthusiastic Hermie (Ryan Driscoll),
his bolder buddy Oscy (Brett Tabisel,) and the nerdy bird-watching
Benjie (Jason Marcus) are in hot pursuit of three teenaged girls.
But things change for Hermie when he becomes infatuated with
Dorothy (Kate Jennings Grant), a recent bride whose husband, Pete
(Greg Stone), has just left for military service. It is when that
dreaded telegraph arrives in Act II that Hermie’s fantasy becomes
a reality and Dorothy’s grief is briefly assuaged. Credit director
Gabriel Barre for making a tasteful and tender scene of their
one that evolves as they hold each other and dance to a song being
played on a record player. The musical’s strength is that it makes
a point of stressing Dorothy’s emotional needs as well as it does
Hermie’s insecure but strong feelings.
While the three teen girls — Aggie (Celia Keenan-Bolger), Miriam
(Megan Valerie Walker) and Gloria (Erin Webley) — are amusingly
cast to complement the personalities of the boys, it is as a trio
of Andrew Sisters-styled singers that they make the biggest impact.
This, as they periodically pop in and out of the action in costumer
Pamela Schofield’s colorful and cute period frocks, with their bouncy
pastiches of ’40s pop music.
At "The Movies," in which Hermie and Oscy attempt to make
out with their dates is one of many funnily addressed episodes. A
particularly winning scene is Hermie’s awkward attempt to buy a condom
at the local drugstore, trying the patience of the proprietor (given
a nice New England resonance by Bill Kux) in the process. Barre’s
wonderfully executed and antic jitterbug on the beach is the show’s
principal dance number.
A very appealing Grant, who has the look of the ’40s young war bride,
could bring a tear to your eye with her lovely plaintive solo
of the Morning." The retro romantic songs may strike some as being
quaint. But Grant and Driscoll’s duet "Someone to Dance with
is easy to swoon and sway to. And Grant and Stone’s only song,
Did I Dream," is given a nostalgic fox-trot tempo. The youth are
just about perfect in appearance and performance.
With his immature good looks and invigorating presence, Driscoll
the action and never ceases to be either endearing or convincing.
Tabisel, a somewhat portly bundle of teenage lust, steals as many
scenes as he is in. That doesn’t mean that Marcus, as the least
and the boy most intimidated by sex of the trio, doesn’t win our
But what makes "Summer of 42" most appealing is the way Barre
has, with great delicacy and finesse, created a dream-like vision
of youth and a portrait of the time when America had just gone to
war. It is rather refreshing to see a coming-of-age story that takes
such pure unadulterated delight in its sentiments. ***
— Simon Saltzman
at 14th Street, New York. For tickets call Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250
Clare Boothe Luce’s bitchy, biting, and back-stabber
of a play "The Women" may have had a topical target in its
sights in 1936. In 2001, in the Roundabout Theater production and
as directed by Scott Elliott, the play’s aim appears unfocused and
its purpose meretricious. A visually impressive opening tableau vivant
has the all-female cast appearing as mannequins within set designer
Derek McLane’s modernist New York skyline. That they are sporting
the first collection of costume designer Isaac Mizrahi’s creations
might lead you to think that a stylish show was in the works.
Unfortunately, "The Women," doesn’t unfold as a stylishly
witty send-up of wealthy Park Avenue matrons but rather as an
campy valentine to the art of female impersonating. Just as Mizrahi’s
costumes tend to deteriorate with more desperation than design, the
play also deteriorates into a cheap and tacky parody of a once brittle
and barbed satire. The performances, by some otherwise capable actors,
also tend to be come infected by a concerted disintegration of style.
Only McLane’s mobile pastel hued settings attempted anything close
Why Elliott, who did such good work staging "Present Laughter"
and "The Three Sisters" (both for Roundabout), has pressed
to actors to perform as if they were female impersonators, is
But it is unconscionable to treat the play, dated, irrelevant, and
grating, as it is today, as a disingenuous artifact. Everything that
is said and all that happens right down to the curtain call, in which
the company is made to take their bows in undergarments (of the
reveals a taste for tastelessness. One can feel only badly for the
actors being herded through this fiasco.
Some credit for attempting an honest performance must go to Cynthia
Nixon, in the role of initially clueless and gullible Mary, who
from the big mouth of a manicurist that her husband is having an
with Crystal (Jennifer Tilly) an unscrupulous hard-as-nails
shop girl. It is bad enough that the egregiously miscast Tilly hardens
her already abrasive voice so that it sounds like a nail clawing its
way down a chalkboard. But she also made to stand facing the audience
totally nude in a gratuitous shower scene that is notable only for
its embarrassing awkwardness.
You may find some respite from a stage full of fashion grotesqueries
with the less offensive presence of Mary Louise Wilson, as Mary’s
sensible advice-giving mother. When a short scene between an upstairs
and a downstairs maid (excellently played by Heather Matarazzo and
Mary Band Davis), who are discussing the marital breakup of their
employers, becomes the most credible and pertinent in the play, there
is something wrong. The only thing they failed to discuss was why
anybody would want to spend time with "The Women."
— Simon Saltzman
West 42. Extended to January 13. For tickets call Tele-Charge at
The key: Four stars, Don’t miss; Three stars, You won’t feel
cheated; Two stars, Maybe you should have stayed home; One star,
Don’t blame us.
John and Tim Rice.
and Helen Mirren. To January 13.
West 46. Neil Simon comedy. Ticketmaster.
2001 winner for best revival.
Burton in Ibsen. To January 13.
ABBA hit musical.
Best Play. With Jennifer Jason Leigh.
10 Tony nominations.
Broadway. To January 6.
243 West 47. With Valerie Harper.
227 West 42. To January 13.
musical. To January 6.
45 Bleecker. Ticketmaster. Rinde Eckert. To January 13.
New from Richard Greenberg.
New from Tony Kushner.
407 West 43.
Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt.
Center, 111 East 15.
Ends January 13.
By Neil Labute.
By Jonathan Larson.
— Simon Saltzman
can be made through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.
Other ticket outlets: Ticket Central, 212-279-4200; Ticketmaster,
800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.
For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music,
and dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing
arts hotline operated by the Theater Development Fund. The TKTS
half-price ticket booth at Times Square (Broadway & 47) is open daily,
3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for evening performances; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for
and Saturday matinees; and 11 a.m. to closing for Sunday matinees.
Cash or Travelers Checks only; no credit cards. Visit TKTS at:
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.