‘Good News!’ for Goodspeed’s 50th

By Don Bourret - ReminderNews
East Haddam - posted Mon., May. 6, 2013
The 'Good News!' ensemble cheers the team on. Photo by Diane Sobolewski of Goodspeed Musicals. - Contributed Photo

Goodspeed Musicals launches its 50th anniversary season with a new production of what many regard as the definitive college/football musical, “Good News!” The show runs at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam through June 22.

When it opened on Broadway in 1927, “Good News!” ran for an impressive 557 performances and was one of the biggest hits of the flapper era, peaking just before the world’s financial empires crashed.

Unfortunately, this revival is not Goodspeed at the top of its game. The plot now seems simply stale and predictable, most of the characters are one-dimensional, and too much of the humor is forced. Why? The program notes give us a clue that this was the “quintessential show of the era of wonderful nonsense” and that it “appealed to a wide audience, thanks to the rah-rah atmosphere of the decade’s collegiate craze.” Or, perhaps more simply, that was then and this is now.

Nostalgia appeal aside, today’s more-sophisticated audiences generally tend to prefer more nuance and dimension in the plots and characterizations of even the fluffiest confections. Make no mistake, though: as I have written often in my reviews, I regard Goodspeed Musicals as a national treasure for its dedication “to the preservation and advancement of musical theater” and for the extraordinary quality of its productions. Even an imperfect Goodspeed production is often superior to those from other companies. And heck, even Hitchcock had the odd miss or two.

The plot: Tait College’s last and biggest game of the season is just a couple of days away, and the hopes and dreams of all on campus are couting on a victory. And that victory rides solely on the broad shoulders of all-American football hero and ladies man Tom Marlowe (Ross Lekites). But (gasp!), dimbulb Tom may not be able to play because he is flunking astronomy. He has one day to freshen his stargazing for a makeup exam that will save the day for Tait’s honor or plunge the campus into a black hole.

Enter mousey little Connie Lane (Chelsea Morgan Stock), a grad student with large glasses and an even larger secret crush on our boy, who is recruited to tutor him. She sees past his pompous airs, he sees past her brainy façade and glasses, and we see love blooming. Characters orbiting around our moonstruck duo include his vapid and clueless fiancée Pat ((Lindsey O’Neil), plus the head coach (Mark Zimmerman) and astronomy professor Kenyon (Beth Glover), who renew their lost love from college days in a delightful pas de deux to “You’re The Cream In My Coffee.” I’m not giving anything away to tell you that, after a couple of speed bumps, Tait wins and love triumphs.

This show still has much to recommend it, especially for fans of Goodspeed’s early years with its fresh and wholesome productions of vintage shows celebrating old-fashioned values. While many of the songs are serviceable but forgettable, it is great fun when a familiar old standard pops up: “The Best Things In Life Are Free,” “Keep Your Sunny Side Up,” “Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries,” and “Button Up Your Overcoat.” The showstopper is the “Varsity Drag,” where director/choreographer Vince Pesce has the entire cast singing, tapping and cavorting all over the stage in the show’s most rousing feel-good number. Program notes tell us that this was the most popular Charleston number of its time.

The cast, as usual at Goodspeed, is universally excellent, bringing considerable energy and an all-important sincerity to their cardboard characters. Outstanding among them are Tessa Faye as Babe, the vivacious and wiggly campus “flirt,” and rubber-faced Barry Shafrin as Bobby, the scrawniest and worst player on the team, both providing much-needed and welcome comic relief. Either singly or together, their bits are true highlights of the show, as acknowledged by the huge rounds of applause they each received at curtain call.

Conclusions: The show is not top-shelf Goodspeed, but it will please many who treasure the golden days of yesteryear, particularly those of a certain age. While the material is certainly suitable for children, many of them probably would find it a yawn, especially for two and a half hours (with intermission).

“Good News!” plays at the Goodspeed Opera House through June 22. You can get information regarding show times and ticket sales by calling the box office at 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org.

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