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BWW Review: DEAR WORLD Concert Reading Beguiles at VPAC

Dear World/book by Jerome Lawrence & Robert E. Lee/music by Jerry Herman/New Version by David Thompson/based on The Madwoman of Chaillot by Jean Giraudoux/directed by David Lee/Concert Reading/VPAC (Valley Performing Arts Center)/One Night Only/Friday September 30/CLOSED

Great works of literature are often beautifully adapted into opera and ballet. Think of Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba, to name just one. Jean Giraudoux's The Madwoman of Chaillot is also tremendously passionate and digs deep into the female psyche, producing emotional rhythms that lend themselves to music. Whereas Lorca's work concentrates on sexual repression, Giraudoux's is more romantic and... goes a step further into the realm of championing a cause, a desire to right human wrongs and change the world.

When four Presidents - corporate men who control Paris in 1945 - think there is oil beneath a cafe frequented by Countess Aurelia (Tyne Daly), they attempt to con an innocent man Julian (Zach Ford) into bombing it, regardless of the multiple deaths that may result. When Julian dives into the Seine with bomb in hand and the Countess learns of the plot, she cannot sit still and watch destruction triumph and so enlists the aid of her loony friends Constance (Vicki Lewis) and Gabrielle (Bets Malone) to find a legal hook to stop the assailants. They enlist the aid of the Sewer Man (Steven Weber), who tells them there is definitely no oil beneath. There is a staircase that leads to the sewers below with no way out. Is allowing the terrorist men to walk down to their ultimate deaths a crime or is it a justifiable and righteous move, ridding Paris of a far greater menace? There is a wonderful line toward the end of the script when Countess Aurelia is lauded for her successful scheme and proclaims, "Nothing that a sensible woman cannot fix." How topical! Let's vote for Hillary and watch what happens.

There are some pretty serious issues in Dear World, lightened by lunacy - or is it wisdom? - and a bright, bubbly score, with some truly beautiful ballads, by Jerry Herman. The show was never considered popular audience fare; in fact, it only played on Broadway for under four months when it bowed in 1969, but did win Angela Lansbury one of her five Tony Awards. This concert reading, with revisions by David Thompson, proved to be a winning evening for Tyne Daly, always a wonderful character actress. She sported a French accent and summoned up all of her lovely emotional qualities to evoke a Countess that is at once human and loving, but willing to do what is necessary to keep tradition alive and push greed and corruption into the bowels of hell, literally. Also terrific in their portrayals were Vicki Lewis, Bets Malone, and Steven Weber who pushed the limits to create fully fleshed out characters. They evoked joyous laughter as well as tears. So happy to see Zach Ford in a strong featured role and praise also to Brandi Burkhardt, his love interest Nina, who sings "I've Never Said I Love You" so gorgeously. Kudos as well to Damon Kirsche, E.E. Bell, Michael Shepperd and James Leo Ryan who give fun-loving portrayals as the evildoers, to Sean Smith as the Sergeant...and to Jane Leeves who did a lovely job as the Narrator.

Thank you to David Lee for his even staging, and to Darryl Archibald, fine musical director who conducted the wonderful 25 piece orchestra. There was also Acasola, CSUN's first a cappella choir of 17 young voices. Bravo to one and all!

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From This Author Don Grigware