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GO AHEAD WITHOUT ME, I’LL CATCH UP LATER

 

picture - Take Me AlongTheater Review

by John Topping

published March 7, 2008

 

Take Me Along

now playing Off Broadway at the Irish Repertory Theater

through April 13

 

In the roster of older Broadway shows, Take Me Along, a musical version of Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness!, has never reached household-word familiarity.  The primary, but not only, reason for being so is that it was never adapted into a film version.  However, most of us immersed in theater know of it, and many know it intimately.  The older generation who saw the original 1959 Broadway production with Jackie Gleason, Eileen Hurlie, Walter Pidgeon and Robert Morse have only the fondest memory.  And many of those same are making a beeline to the current Off Broadway revival mounted by the highly respected (and a favorite of Stage and Cinema’s) Irish Repertory Theatre Company, under the direction of the venerable Charlotte Moore.

 

Take Me Along as a piece of entertainment is revered primarily for its lovely songs by Bob Merrill; but its book by Joseph Stein and Robert Russell has never been solidly buoyant, if you will.  That it’s based on an O’Neill classic seems to hinder it more than stabilize it.  The main character of Ah, Wilderness!, Richard Miller (played by Teddy Eck in this production) is pushed back to subplot status.  Brought into the foreground are the formerly secondary characters of Sid Davis (Don Stephenson) and Lily Miller (Beth Glover), and the big romantic comedy question is raised:  will Sid and Lily, after an on-again, off-again relationship spanning ten years, finally tie the knot and get their lives settled?  (You’ll never guess the ending!)

 

The problem here is that the stakes are pretty damn low.  You see, Sid is a major alcoholic, he has hindering authority issues and he can’t hold on to a job.  And Lily is not content to accept his character flaws.  Sid can’t even go a few hours without drinking before supper, after promising Lily that she could trust him not to.  And we are to root for a teetotaler getting hitched to a hopeless drunk?  (Moreover, the final conflict is contrived and the resolution to it is weak, to say the least (except that it incorporate's the play's title).)

 

No matter, we’re here for those wonderful and charming songs.  Unfortunately, for the most part, they don’t deliver.  Part of the reason is that the four live musicians are not enough; these songs need full – or at least fuller – orchestration.  The crowd scenes could have used a little choreography instead of standing in a straight line.  There are countless dead moments.  But perhaps the biggest liability is the miscasting of Stephenson and Eck in two of the most important roles.  They’re not untalented guys – Stephenson in particular is probably wonderful in the right part; but the role of Sid is not that part.

 

It’s not fair to compare them to the original Broadway cast – the production does not pretend to be on that scale – but star wattage is what needs to be infused to bring it to life.  The 1985 Broadway revival suffered from the same problem, I learned, and its opening night and closing night occurred on the same evening.  The songs must be grabbed and owned and should spring forth from the actors; here, for the most part, they’re dutifully performed.   William Parry as Nat Miller comes the closest to harnessing the spirit that is needed, and Lily is beautifully rendered by Glover in both song and book.  Still, it’s too bad that Nathan Lane is slumming uptown in the dreadful hit November instead of on 22nd Street where his particular brand of outsized talent would be put to good use.

 

The silver lining is that Take Me Along, for the moment, may simply be under-rehearsed.  It is not unreasonable to expect – or at least hope – that two weeks down the road, the actors will have found their characters, the director will have removed the dead spots, and the charm that the show is long on will be fully realized.

 

johntopping @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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