Seattle Review: Girl of My Dreams
Though quaint and cute are perfect words to describe community theatre outings, they aren't the words you'd want to apply to something created in a professional setting. Village Theatre's Girl of My Dreams is hardly the stuff that legitimate theatre is made of. It's cute, it's quaint, but it offers little to a genre already bombarded with similar (and better) tongue in cheek entertainments.
These book-thin, song heavy shows provide some of the best moments in musical theatre history. Shortly into Girl of My Dreams it becomes clear that these creations are very much a product of their time. Few modern writers could achieve the naïve wit found in shows like Pal Joey, Anything Goes, or any of the Ziegfield Follies or New Faces offerings. Though these classics feature flawed and sometimes non-existent books, there is a topical immediacy that is nearly impossible to reproduce in a contemporary context.
To give Girl of My Dreams credit, it is a perfect fit for Village's audience. It is a safe show full of easy laughs and songs that traditionalists crave. But there is nothing unique, vital, or memorable about this USO salute penned by Peter Ekstrom (music and lyrics), Steve Hayes (lyrics), and David Deboy (book and additional lyrics). Set during World War II, the contrived plot involves a love triangle, some obvious sub-plots, and a lot of period references clearly created by modern minds. There's a reflective tone to the material that would not be present had this show been written in 1944. Choosing to present the show as a flashback only serves to drive us further away from the era. Girl of My Dreams emerges as a off-skew nostalgia piece. Success has been achieved if this was the aim. Still, the whole product seems a bit too hokey for an equity house with such a rich history of producing original musical theatre. Girl of My Dreams relies too much on the recent influx in patriotism.
The writing team is never able to find the balance between the USO numbers and the plot songs. They seem more at home with the silliness and sentiment of it all. They tend to neglect anything too character specific. The songs aren't dreadful by any means, but their unavoidable resemblance to classic standards of the time makes this hill even tougher to climb. There are a few forced attempts to tackle the issues of the time, like racism, but these moments are neither moving nor sincere. Girl of My Dreams frequently reminds us of all the MGM "let's put on a show" musicals. Sadly, this new work is never able to escape the booming shadow of those legendary films. You simply can't parody classic works that are next to impossible to beat. It's the theatrical equivalent of watching a teenage American Idol contestant tackle a Stevie Wonder song. It can never live up to or surpass the golden standard.
Director Steve Tompkins' bright and appropriate choreography is a highlight throughout. He often manages to take the mind away from the glaring flaws of the text. Tompkins makes clunker numbers like "Pin-Up Girls" (a rip-off of "His Love Makes Me Beautiful" from Funny Girl) come alive with lively period dances that transport easily. His direction and choreography are full of the charm that is desperately needed. The strong touch he brings to the musical numbers makes a strong case for taking away the book and turning Girl of My Dreams into a straight revue.
The leads do little to save things. Though serviceable, they never give the effortless triple-threat performances required to make such material sparkle. David Jon Wilson gives an awkward performance as movie-star "hunk" Luke Wheeler. To be frank, Wilson never seems truly comfortable in the leading roles he is frequently assigned. Taryn Darr looks the part, but her Liz Dodson rarely goes beneath the surface. Darr never seems overly passionate about the material she is asked to execute here. Eric Ankrim's Freddy Gillette is the strongest of the three leads. He does his best to flesh out his paper thin role.
The supporting cast steals every moment possible from the often bland leads. Mariah Anne Taylor shows us that she is one of Seattle's most unique and talented musical theatre performers. Her style fits the era best. Taylor piles on mounds of charm and sexiness to the sweetly naïve Cindy Hawthorne. Chris Clay proves himself to be a gifted physical comedian, and relishes in the sincere humor of "The Ladies Always Go For the Brass". He brings charm and class to a role that could easily be perceived as racist. Kathryn Van Meter adds saucy lustiness to Effie Lawrence, and is able to give tribute to the many starlets she represents while still offering a healthy dose of originality. Joshua M. Bott is a welcome delight as band-leader Phil Gold. Hugh Hastings does his best in a series of awkward "old-guy" roles that never fully showcase his talents.
Carey Wong's scenic design remains period perfect while still achieving the unique artistry that frequents his work. His sets provide a lovely accent to Tompkins' strong musical staging. Tim Symons' crisp musical direction and Bruce Monroe's lush orchestrations add atmosphere, sophistication, and flavor.
Girl of My Dreams resembles the entertainments that frequent fairs, theme parks, and Fourth of July celebrations. It is nearly impossible to see this show surviving on Broadway or any of the influential musical theatre houses in the country. There is nothing wrong with giving your audience exactly what they want. But wouldn't challenging them be more rewarding?
Girl of My Dreams runs through April 23rd at Village Theatre in Issaquah. It then transfers to
All Photos by Jay Koh
Top: David Jon Wilson as Luke Wheeler, Mariah Taylor as Cindy Hawthorne, Eric Ankrim as Freddy, Taryn Darr as Liz Dodson, Chris Clay as Ben Piper, Kathryn Van Meter as Effie Lawrence, and Joshua M. Bott as Phil Gold.
Bottom: Mariah Taylor as Cindy Hawthorne and Joshua M. Bott as Phil Gold.