Rah Rah Rah! Sis Boom Bah!

by David A. Rosenberg

What with “42” bringing them in at the movies and the cheerful “Good News” at, appropriately, Goodspeed, it’s time to get out the pennants and rabbits’ feet. “42” is the touching bio of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American in the major leagues, and his beginnings with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Much is at stake, including race relations and integrity.

 

At stake in “Good News” is who will win the football game and get the girl. The current production is a lighthearted, lightweight affair, adapted by Jeremy Desmon from the 1927 hit that ran for more than 500 performances. When it’s singing and dancing, toes will tap. When it’s talking, chins will hit chests.

 

“Good News” emphasizes collegians more interested in football and dating than studying. At Goodspeed, one subject it’s low on is chemistry. It’s so terribly pure you’d think hormones had gone out of style, although one scene has sorority girls en dishabille in pajamas and robes.

 

In a 1974 Broadway revival, a romance between astronomy professor Charlotte and football coach Bill was added. (Charlotte was originally Charles, but it’s not that kind of show.)

 

In a 1993 Wichita production, added were gems like “You’re the Cream in my Coffee,” “Button Up Your Overcoat” and “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries.” Truth to tell, it had a distinguished DeSylva, Brown and Henderson score without the additions. Nothing wrong with “Just Imagine,” “The Best Things in Life are Free,” “Keep Your Sunny Side Up” and the infectious “Varsity Drag,” which started its own dance craze.

 

That dance, inserted at the end of Act I, gives a dullish evening a needed boost. Before this tip-top moment, we’re subject to a familiar tale of football hero Tom who must pass astronomy in order to play in the big game. His snotty, bubble-headed blonde girlfriend, Pat, gets her mousy (brunet, of course) cousin, Connie, to tutor him. Obvious complications ensue but all is right at the end.

 

In the mix are man-hungry Babe, pursued by big galoot Beef though with her eye on milquetoast Bobby who’s cornered at the sorority house in drag, which amuses the audience. An unrestrained Tessa Faye is Babe, while an infectiously awkward Barry Shafrin is Bobby. Ross Lekites is a star in the making as Tom and Myles J. McHale is ingratiating as Beef.

 

Others in the cast don’t fare as well and Vince Pesce does better as choreographer than director. The male ensemble is terrific, however, reaching its apex with a slow motion football game.

 

In this, its 50th season, “Good News,” which the theater also produced back in 1972, is a welcome return to the ditsy, all-for-fun tuners that used to be Goodspeed’s stock in trade before it went all commercial on us and decided to concentrate on retreads of familiar shows like “Mame” and “Camelot.” It was an era when, as the theater’s anniversary brochure puts it, Goodspeed breathed new life into “forgotten musicals.”

 

It was also the era that delectably resurrected “Very Good Eddie,” “Whoopee” and “Little Johnny Jones,” produced those irresistible moneybags, “Man of La Mancha,” “Shenadoah” and “Annie” and raised the roof with a knockout production of “Pal Joey.” They had hits, they had flops. They threw out the brilliant Dan Siretta but brought in the brilliant Peggy Hickey.

 

For all their ups and downs, the organization under Executive Director Michael P. Price has not only thrived, it has made a positive contribution to the American musical theater, winning honors. It still, unfortunately, lacks an artistic director, yet firm hands are at the wheel -- and we wish it another successful 50 years, at least.

 

“Good News” is at Goodspeed Musicals, East Haddam, through June 22. Call (860) 873-8668 or visit goodspeed.org

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CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE