Corrections or additions?
This article by Simon Saltzman
was prepared for the December 12, 2001 edition
of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Broadway Review: `By Jeeves’
There are presumably fans and followers aplenty of
P.G. Wodehouse’s whimsical stories about the idiotic upper-crust
Bertie Wooster, and his ever-resourceful and bemused valet (not a
butler as I have been assured by a colleague and born-again
Jeeves. That should insure some interest in the sorry little musical
that composer Andrew Lloyd Weber and scribe Alan Ayckbourn have
One would think that 26 years of toying and tinkering with a musical
that would be respectful of Wooster’s clueless nature and Jeeve’s
incredulous jollity would turn out better than it has.
After several London (and its environs) productions over the years
that met with lukewarm responses, and recent tryouts at Goodspeed
(the show’s producer), Connecticut, and at Washington’s Kennedy
"By Jeeves" has found a home at the intimate Helen Hayes
With more delicacy than one gets from the daffy business on the stage,
tea and cookies (nary a scone with clotted cream) are being served
to the audience under the marquee.
What has arrived is a witless, charmless, and amateurish ode to pure
silliness that makes one wonder what the gifted Ayckbourn and Weber
could have on their minds. One’s mind reels with what is passing for
a plot and posing as a score. That it has actually been created by
the gifted writer of over 60 plays (most recently the London hit
and Garden") and the renowned composer of those popular
with cats, chandeliers, and roller skates, is astonishing. However,
with Ayckbourn at the helm of his own creation, it is possible to
see how he may be blinded by his own adulation.
The premise is a show-within-a- show, as Bertie (overplayed with
grins and grimaces by John Scherer) has consented to play his banjo
at a church benefit to raise money for a new steeple. When the banjo
disappears, Bertie entertains the audience (us) with inane stories
and anecdotes about his circle of high society cronies and their
Despite Bertie’s inept ingenuity with props and costumes, there is
precious little to delight the eye, never mind the ear. The stories
— a sort of "La Ronde" for knuckleheads — have the
remarkable ability to make you want to start going over your Christmas
Devotees will undoubtedly respond gleefully to characters with names
like Honoria Glossip, Bingo Little, and Harold "Stinker"
As expected, mistaken identities and bits of foolish business,
a burglary involving a pig mask, leads us back to a recovered banjo,
an Elvis spoof and a "Wizard of Oz" costumed finale. Light
and digestible as they are, the songs are, nevertheless, as
as the reason for them being sung.
Although he is credited as "one of Britain’s most distinguished
stars," Martin Jarvis (the only Brit in the cast), as Jeeves,
gives no evidence of this accolade in his performance. The rest of
the 11-member company (American), that run around designer Roger
monumentally cheesy tiered multi-door setting, give no evidence or
indication they have ever played comedy before. A small band does
play the treacly music with aplomb. The aisles are deftly used by
the cast, but not as frequently as by members of the audience, many
of whom did not return after intermission at the performance I caught.
— Simon Saltzman
New York. For tickets, $75 & $85, Tele-Charge: 800-432-7250 or
Closes December 30.
Two highly anticipated musicals have arrived on
One — "Mama Mia" — is full of life and the other —
"Thou Shalt Not" — is full of death. While the former
soothes the mind with a brainless plot and giddily familiar music
the latter boggles the mind with its unfocused story and an inadequate
So what’s wrong with entering the theater already humming the songs?
Perhaps you are willing or able to remember the days when radio
continually played the songs from hit-tune-laden shows like "South
Pacific," "My Fair Lady," and "The Music Man"
while they were still having their pre-Broadway tryouts.
The idea of being prepared for a new musical is nothing new. Although
Benny Andersson (music) and Bjorn Ulvaeus (lyrics) of the Swedish
pop group ABBA have been represented on Broadway with an original
score for "Chess," they are not generally considered theater
composers. But, whether or not you are fans of ABBA, you have
been dancing and singing to many of their numerous hits like "Mama
Mia," and "Dancing Queen" at discos, weddings and bar
mitzvahs for a generation. "Mama Mia," the musical with a
book (using the term loosely) and 22 ABBA hits, is still a huge hit
in London after two sell-out years. It has arrived at the beautifully
re-claimed (after 18 years of "Cats") and refurbished Winter
Garden Theater (celebrating its 90th birthday this month) after a
lengthy and successful multi-city pre-Broadway tour of the United
Be warned, however, that many in the audience feel they have the right
to bounce in their seats and mouth the words karaoke-style as one
song after another is wedged, with a minimum of validation, into a
story invented by Catherine Johnson. Johnson is careful not to let
her story interfere more than is necessary with the music and the
dancing. One line of dialogue and two opening notes are all the clues
needed for half the audience to greet each song with applause.
Donna (Louise Pitre), once a former lead singer with a disco girl
group, Donna and the Dynamos, is now a middle-aged unmarried owner
of a tavern on a Greek island. She is in the midst of preparations
for her spunky daughter Sophie’s (Tina Maddigan) wedding to Sky (Joe
Machota), her equally enthusiastic fiance. Donna’s best friends, two
former Dynamos — the many times married vamp Tanya (Karen Mason),
and the still single cookbook editor Rosie (Judy Kaye) have arrived
at the tavern with sass and sparkle to spare and ready to shake it
up for the festivities.
On the sly, Sophie has sent invitations to three of her mother’s old
lovers, with the hope that one of them will be revealed as her father
and agree to give her away. It will not surprise you to learn that
each of the three men — Sam (David W. Keeley), a macho divorced
architect; Bill (Ken Marks), a single travel writer; and Harry (Dean
Nolen), a banker — is convinced that they are the father. It
take a genius to guess that a few matches will be made before a
twist ending finds everyone celebrating in designer Mark Thompson’s
revolving hot white and azure blue Greek Island setting, over-lit
with brilliance by Howard Harrison.
We are not talking about a ground-breaking musical here, but rather
an stage-shaking one, its deafening retro beat used as an excuse to
propel a silly, but uplifting, fantasy — something that won’t
do us any harm at a time like this. While the men in the show are
fine enough, it remains for the women to knock our socks off. Mason
and Kaye, two terrific middle-aged musical theater pros, who never
cease to amuse and to amaze, give the show a broad comic wallop,
in their south-of-the-border flavored "Chiquitita." But it
is up to the feisty and formidable Pitre to take charge of the show’s
more musical dramatics, as she does with her show-stopping belting
of "The Winner Takes It All."
There’s are as many opportunities to laugh at the light-hearted script
as there are at the way the songs are interpolated. Credit
Anthony Van Laast for making old steps seem knew again, and musical
arranger Martin Koch for renewing those great, not so old, songs.
Take the advice of one song — "Take a Chance on Me." You
won’t be sorry. Three stars. You won’t feel cheated.
— Simon Saltzman
Street, 212-563-5544. $98.50.
auditions for "A Raisin in the Sun" on Sunday, December 15.
Performance dates are March 5 to April 13. To schedule, call
kids on Thursday and Friday, December 27 and 28, from 9 a.m. to 4
p.m. Crafts, visit animals, and workshops. $40. Register. Call
and small gift from Santa in exchange for a $5 donation. Send check
payable to Arthritis Foundation with child’s name, address, age, and
sex, to: Santa’s Village, c/o Arthritis Foundation, NJ Chapter, 9
Tanner Street, East Entry, Haddonfield 08033-2418. Call 732-283-4300.
near both campuses for students. The college will serve as a listing
agent for residents wishing to rest a room or apartment. Call
culture, provide orientations, and guidance to au pairs and host
EurAupair provides training, support, and guidance, and reimburses
for expenses. Call Susan Borelly at 800-901-2002.
"Multicultural Storytelling and the History of the Drum,"
on Wednesdays, from January 9 to May 8, at North Brunswick High
Led by Vince and Karen Ector, the program is geared toward adults
with developmental disabilities. To register, call 732-745-3885.
message as a milestone such as birthday, graduation, anniversary,
memorial for a person, event, or organization. $50. Forms available
at the library, 4 Municipal Plaza.
provides non-medical, day-to-day, free transportation to the senior
community within Mercer County. For information or to volunteer, call
and merchandise vendors, nonprofit organizations, and local performers
for Communiversity 2002 to be held on Saturday, April 27, from noon
to 4 p.m. Call 609-924-8777.
entries from artists and crafters for its May event at Washington
Crossing State Park, Titusville. To enter, submit three slides
of works to be shown. Deadline is March 1, 2002. Call 610-687-8535.
Spring 2002 contest. The theme "Crisis," may be in any form
of poetry with a 32-line limit postmarked by March 1, 2002. Prizes
range from $12 to $50 U.S. Bonds. Call 609-882-4784 for complete
rules and information.
edition of "Underage," an anthology of short stories and poems
from children under the age of 18. The deadline is Friday, March 15,
2002. Call 609-924-8777.
to qualified students wishing to learn about native plants and public
gardens. The program begins in May or June and runs for ten to fifteen
40-hour weeks. Call 215-862-2924.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.