In my humble opinion

Everything old is new again

By JONATHAN CHARLES FOX
Posted 9/1/21

I’ve said it before and will say it again: I don’t care for change. And yes, I’m aware that it’s inevitable. Doesn’t mean I have to like it though, does it? Ever wonder …

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In my humble opinion

Everything old is new again

Posted

I’ve said it before and will say it again: I don’t care for change. And yes, I’m aware that it’s inevitable. Doesn’t mean I have to like it though, does it? Ever wonder who first said, “the only constant is change?” I did, so I looked it up. Apparently, some old dude (I mean Greek philosopher) named Heraclitus who, according to Wikipedia, was “subject to depression and became known as ‘the weeping philosopher.’” Maybe because he didn’t care for change.

“Change is good!” a pal chirped when I told her I was going to attend an exhibit called “The Last Picture (Art) Show” at the Nutshell Arts Center in Lake Huntington, NY last weekend. I had heard that Carmen and Juan Rigal had sold the building to the Delaware Valley Opera company, and while I’m happy for the DVO, I’m simultaneously saddened to see a changing of the guard.

“It’s a good thing,” Juan told me as I perused the paintings, sculptures and mixed media works created by many well-known local artists. “Carmen and I aren’t moving,” he assured me. “Who knows what the future might bring?”

“Nothin’ good,” I mumbled to the dog, who was happy to be out and about, interacting with others, instead of staying home on a Saturday night with me—the “weeping philosopher” of Sullivan County.

 “Everything old is new again, right, girl?” I said to the dog, as I returned to Wikipedia in order to discover who said that the first time. Apparently, those words have been attributed to Winston Churchill, Mark Twain and Stephen King (of all people), but actually go further back to an anonymously written ancient Chinese proverb.

I wasn’t the only sad one in the gallery that night. As artists and connoisseurs milled about, the mood was somewhat somber as reality set in. “Don’t be depressed, it will be even better,” Juan said while giving Dharma a scritch. “You’ll see.”

Earlier in the week, a press release from Forestburgh Playhouse producer Franklin Trapp seemed to echo that sentiment.

“From August 24–September 5 we are presenting the world premiere of the revival of ‘Babes in Arms’—an old musical by Rodgers and Hart featuring classic Broadway tunes such as ‘My Funny Valentine,’ ‘Johnny One Note’ and ‘The Lady is a Tramp.’

 “What is special about this production,” Trapp explained, “is that acclaimed playwright Douglas Carter Beane has rewritten the book and has brought on a major music director from Broadway, Andy Einhorn, to revamp the score.”

“Out with the old, in with the new,” I grumbled, wondering who originally said that, and why the musical needed to be rewritten at all.   

The premise of the story is about a group of young actors during the Depression, who put on a show in a barn to make some money after their vaudevillian parents abandon them to perform on the road, leaving the kids to their own devices, and those plot points have not been changed.

Director Beane is quoted in the online magazine Broadway World as calling “Babes” “one of the greatest scores ever written for a musical,” and “one of the all-time iconic premises of the Broadway theatre—‘I have a barn, let’s put on a show!’” He goes on to say that this re-imagined production boasts a “super cute, multi-talented Swiss Army knife cast that acts, dances, sings, and plays instruments.”

“So, they are mounting the first production of this revival at the Playhouse—a perfect barn theatre for this show.” Trapp’s press release informed me. “Their hope is to see this production travel to Broadway eventually and for us to be a stop on that journey is an honor and a big deal.”

I attended a rehearsal in order to catch Beane in his element, and he’s right about a couple of things. The cast, featuring Eric Siegle, Aliza Ciara, Liat Shuflita, Tia Karaplis, Jeffrey Marc Alkins, GraceAnn Kontak, Joseph Monseur, Dan Kelly, Logan Schmucker, and M.L. Catwell is stellar.

While it was originally conceived as a story within a story, there were moments where it actually felt like two separate shows, (IMHO) but I’m guessing that wasn’t Douglas Carter Beane’s intent. Siegle (as Valentine LaMar) and Karapolis (as Billie Smith) stand out, but the entire cast delivers strong performances, and each musical number is beautifully staged and choreographed by Ellenore Scott.

If I had to single out one performer, it would be Liat Shuflita, who shines every moment on stage as Baby Rose, a child star whose career flatlined after puberty, leaving her bereft and lonely before she hooked up with the theatrically inclined ragamuffins. As the kids struggle for, and ultimately lose, their financial backing, (because of racial tension), it’s a mystery why Baby Rose, who repeatedly brags about “having money,” doesn’t come to their rescue, but what do I know? Maybe I should ask Mr. Beane about that.

Regardless of the many elements that do work, this show would be good, but not great, were it not for Tim Golebiewski’s beautiful set, Ethan Newman’s dark-but-gorgeous lighting design, Kevin Semancik’s sound design, Ashleigh Poteat’s clever costuming and the all-pervasive stunning projections designed by Shawn Boyle. In addition, T.C. Kincer’s musical direction of Noah Turner (keyboard) Andy Hains (bass) and Laura Hamel (percussion)—not to mention the actor/musicians doing double-duty on stage—is the best I’ve experienced in 25 years attending productions at the FBP, so there’s that. I think Beane’s adaptation could use some fine-tuning, but what do I know? Apparently, everything old is new again.

Fun Fact: “Babes in Arms” premiered on Broadway in 1937, but has never been revived. The 1939 MGM film adaptation starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney reworked the plot and contained only two songs from the original score.

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