BWW Review: Happenstance Theater's BON VOYAGE! A HAPPENSTANCE ESCAPADE a Perfect Summer Confection
So what if you can't make it to Paris this year, or your visit with the Mona Lisa might have to wait? Are you missing your table at the Moulin Rouge? How about that blasTed Eyesore-excuse me, The Eiffel Tower? Well if your wallet has come up a bit shorter than your travel aspirations, never fear; Happenstance Theater has an evocative, goofball take on the City of Lights right here at the Roundhouse Theatre.
It ain't Paris, but as the great W. C. Fields might put it, it ain't Philadelphia neither.
Bon Voyage! A Happenstance Escapade is a joyful musical romp through history, filled with colorful costumes, inventive vaudeville routines, and the occasional newfangled contraption. Set in the Belle Epoque, those heady days at the turn of the 20th century when industry, art and entertainment created new synergies every day, we encounter a motley crew of travelers on the road to the Universal Exhibitions in Paris (which heralded the construction of Mr. Eiffel's, erm, steel monstrosity as well as the Paris Metro).
Happenstance's ensemble is chock full of talents, numerous to begin with, and when combined in a show like this it is impossible not to smile the whole way through. For kids you have slapstick, bad puns and the occasional chance for audience participation (we can make it rain, people). For adults you have visual puns from classic art, statues, and familiar French tunes that never go out of fashion. (This year's special: in honor of Bastille Day, when this show opened, there is a finely-harmonized rendition of "La Marseillaise").
Each character is finely realized, beginning with Mark Jaster's Pierre, a cheese maker determined to win the Prix d'Or with an especially (mal-) odiferous wheel of his own stuff. Sabrina Mandell, meanwhile, is the suffragette Lou, who prides herself on her talents with the penny-farthing bicycle-a contraption utterly destroyed by Alex Vernon's hapless Claude, a would-be philosopher and inventor whose clumsiness indicates that his name might be just a touch misspelled. Sarah OlmsTEd Thomas shines, meanwhile, as Oops, a true vagabond of many talents. Karen Hanson, Happenstance's resident composer/musician-in-chief, has a fine turn as Frère Jacques, an inventor whose name, yes, is the set-up for a godawful pun, a Happenstance specialty. Rounding out the cast is Gwen Trastorf as Marianne, the symbol of the French Revolution, complete with floppy hat.
Together these characters breach the Exposition's ticket-taker, endure their first ride on the Metro, get tangled up in a hot-air balloon, and delight us with their talent for comic timing, mime, music and more. Kris Thompson's lighting design makes brilliant use of the Roundhouse Theatre's space-rear walls and all, and Sabrina Mandell has once again crafted (with the aid of Nancy Mendez) a gorgeous assemblage of costumes, highly evocative of both the period and the culture to which the show is dedicated.
Bon Voyage! is a true confection; less filling than an éclair, funnier than your average sitcom, it is a perfect summer evening for tricksters of all ages.
Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission.
Bon Voyage: A Happenstance Escapade runs July 17-31 at the Roundhouse Theatre Bethesda, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD.