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Review: Andréa Burns Says Buona Sera To The York's CARMELINA

With a proliferation of pimps, drug dealers and muggers saturating Times Square, business on Broadway was struggling during much of the 1970s, with theatres frequently left empty for long stretches and shows that didn't receive enthusiastic praise from the critics usually shutting down quickly.

Joey Sorge and Andréa Burns
(Photo: Ben Strothmann)

The 1978-79 season saw a dozen new book musicals open, but while SWEENEY TODD was the must-see hit and THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG and THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS were also fan favorites, it was primarily a season for fast-closing ventures like PLATINUM, BALLROOM, SARAVA and KING OF HEARTS. Even a catchy Jerry Herman score couldn't keep THE GRAND TOUR open and the great Richard Rodgers' final musical, I REMEMBER MAMA, shut down after a few months.

And then there's Carmelina, a romantic charmer created by three musical theatre masters that vacated the St. James two weeks after its April opening. The lovely, traditional Broadway melodies were by Burton Lane (FINIAN'S RAINBOW) and the astute lyrics were by Alan Jay Lerner (MY FAIR LADY), who collaborated on the impassioned book with Joseph Stein (FIDDLER ON THE ROOF).

Though Carmelina's plot strongly echoes that of a hit film from ten years earlier, "Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell," the creators would point out that their musical was an original piece suggested from the same real-life story.

The York Theatre has twice before presented concert mountings of Carmelina for their Musicals in Mufti series, in a revised version created by Stein, Lane and bookwriter/lyricist Barry Harman (ROMANCE, ROMANCE), a Lerner protégé. The show was played with a full company on Broadway, but here a cast of eight explains the context that we're being told a story by the employees of a small restaurant in Italy, allowing for a more intimate presentation.

Michael Leeds directs the York's latest visit to this underappreciated effort, a very enjoyable book-in-hand production featuring a terrific cast of actor/singers. Andréa Burns gives a gutsy, dramatically sung performance as the title character, who was a teenager during World War II, when Americans were stationed in her little Italian village. After having intimate relations with three GIs (Jim Stanek, Evan Harrington and Timothy John Smith) all of whom were transferred away, she found herself pregnant, not knowing which one was the father.

So for twenty years, as they lived their lives back home in the states, each has been sending a monthly check to ensure that young Gia (MaryJoanna Grisso), who each believes is his daughter, lives a good life. Meanwhile, in order to preserve her reputation in town, Carmelina has claimed that Gia's father is an American soldier she was briefly married to before he died heroically. She gave the fictitious GI the name Eddie Campbell, after the soup. ("I couldn't call myself Carmelina Coca-Cola.")

But her secret is in danger, because the Americans have arrived for a reunion, with all three potential fathers anxious to meet Gia.

Anne L. Nathan
(Photo: Ben Strothmann)

While "Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell" is more of a typical 1960s sex farce, CARMELINA is focused on romance. For years local restauranteur Vittoria (dashing, beautifully-voiced Joey Sorge) has been smitten with the faux-widow, but although attracted, she continues to live in mourning and refrains from further relationships in order to protect her secret. Out of necessity, she confides to her maid Rosa (Anne L. Nathan, nailing all the bluntly comic reactions). Complicating matters is that Gia is considering not returning to the expensive boarding school that the child-support checks provide for her, in order to be with her local suitor, Roberto (softly romantic Antonio Cipriano).

Played by music director/pianist David Hancock Turner and bassist Joseph Wallace, the score features the catchy, Neapolitan-styled "It's Time For A Love Song," a wonderfully-structured story-telling selection, "Someone In April," where Carmelina explains her complicated situation, and, most notably, "One More Walk Around The Garden," where the three Americans rediscover the feelings they had, and remember the young men they were, when they last were in Italy.

Certainly, CARMELINA is a musical that deserves at least one more walk around the garden.

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