For the next-to-last production in the Off-Broadstreet Theater’s Silver Anniversary season, Robert and Julia Thick have chosen “Soup du Jour,” a popular musical from the late 1990s, which is being seen for the first time in New Jersey. Subtitled “A Screwball Musical Comedy,” “Soup du Jour” takes place in New York City in the spring of 1939.
The soup of the title refers to the leading attraction at a popular New York City restaurant run by Stewart Bailey (Nick Muni). The soup was the special creation of Bailey’s father, who has recently died. Bailey has misplaced the recipe and is in despair about how to handle all the customers waiting for their bowl of soup. Adding to Bailey’s frenzy is the fact that he is to be married the next day to a snobby, social-climbing nitwit, Tiffany Vandervanden (Carrie DeNito) whom the audience recognizes is impossible long before he does.
At the same time, Katharine Hawks, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist (Heather Diaforli-Day), has been sent to the restaurant by her frantic editor, J.P. Thompson (sympathetically played by Michael Lawrence). He wants her to pretend to be a waitress looking for a job so that she can steal the recipe and thereby come up with a story that will boost circulation enough to save the paper. Hawks’s enthusiasm for the task is tempered by the fact that she had been planning to fly to London the very next day to begin a major shift in her career. A tall, striking woman, Hawks adeptly switches from being a noted journalist to a conniving waitress.
Competing with Hawks for media glory is the newspaper’s food critic, Shelly DeCoco (Tappany Hochman). DeCoco no longer has functioning taste buds, a fact she obviously feels a need to keep under wraps. Besides, her real interest lies in gossip and scandal. A voice of reason in the midst of all this nonsense is the barkeeper, Franklin O’Sbea, played by Bill Bunting, a first-rate singer and actor.
The music in “Soup du Jour” is perhaps not memorable, but it is certainly pleasant. The songs often have clever lyrics, and the music fits the lyrics comfortably. Accompanying the singers, and playing an overture to the first act and an entr’acte before the second, is a three-man band, with James Jarvie on percussion, Steve Pasierb on bass, and Timothy Brown and Peter Wright alternating on piano. The band is fun and never threatens to dominate the singers; the percussion player’s wide range of instruments goes from the expected drums to the unexpected — bird calls and the like. “Soup du Jour” is Jarvie’s 28th show with Off-Broadstreet. Musically, the show still had some standard opening-night problems, but clearly the band will settle in more, and presumably as the run goes on the singers will be more on top of their songs and the ones who were experiencing vocal problems will relax.
The set, designed by Thick, simultaneously accommodates Hawks’s office at the newspaper on one side and part of Bailey’s Restaurant on the other. For one scene, the space between them serves as Charlie Knickerbocker’s, a nearby watering hole. The set works well, and helps the actors project their stories. The costumes are by Ann Raymond, and as is usually the case with Raymond’s designs, they do their job without calling attention to themselves. We can thank Julie Thick for the entertaining choreography.
Four of the six actors are Off-Broadstreet veterans, some of many past shows — this is number eight for Diaforli-Day and number 10 for Lawrence. The two making their first appearance on the Off-Broadstreet stage are DeNito, who plays Tiffany, and Hochman, who plays Shelly. Hochman, it should be pointed out, is not actually a stranger to the Off-Broadstreet — for many years she was involved presenting dessert or serving the tables.
Although this whole season has been christened the Silver Anniversary season, and a celebratory tone has permeated the publicity materials all season long, the anniversary of the day the theater actually opened will occur during the run of “Soup du Jour.” As the Thicks describe it, on June 29, 1974, “34 adventuresome subscribers, a handful of friends, and a few curious neighbors watched as we embarked on a theatrical adventure.” What they have established is something they should be proud of, and there are many theatergoers in this area who wish them many more years of the same kind of success.
"Soup Du Jour," Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Through Saturday, July 11. Musical comedy features an undercover reporter working as a waitress. $27.50 to $29.50 includes dessert. 609-466-2766 or www.off-broadstreet.com.