The York production has been directed and adapted by Marc Acito who has condensed the original two act script into a long one-acter. Realizing that the original setting of 1948 for a tenth year college reunion with no reference to W.W. II or returning veterans does not make a lot of sense, he has moved the romantic comedy plot up to June 1958 with some new appropriate references to the fifties (Davy Crockett caps, McCarthyism). Although the story seems to flow well enough the new problem is that with the deletion of some of the plot and dialogue, the characters seem to have been reduced to one-dimensional stereotypes which gives the actors a great deal more to do in order to make them real.
Lerner’s original story, one of several he wrote before My Fair Lady, concerns Katherine Talbot who has been invited to her tenth year college reunion at Harvardale College but doesn’t plan to go even though her husband and their friend Bill who all attended are packed for the trip to New England. The problem is that Katherine has just read classmate Alex Maitland’s new novel The Day Before Spring and has recognized herself as the heroine – she had been planning to elope with Alex back at college one night but his car broke down and she was rescued by Peter Talbot, a chemical engineer, whom she married. When Bill’s wife May tells Katherine that Alex is speaking at the reunion she decides to see for herself how he may have changed and find out what she has missed in the interim.
At the reunion, Alex immediately recognized Katherine and tells her he has never stopped loving her as they go off to spend time together. Peter looks to find an inventor who has a product that his company needs who has written to him that he will be at the reunion while being chased by Christopher Randolph, daughter of the dean and sister of Cynthia who he dated at college. May, a world class flirt, meets Alex’s assistant Gerald Barker and attempts to seduce him. Bill runs into classmates Harry Scott and Eddie Aarons. However, when Alex asks Katherine to elope with him again and live out the plans they made years before, he not only plays into her fantasies but wakes up the undemonstrative, absentminded Peter to fight for his wife.
The charming score is made up of lovely ballads (“The Day Before Spring,” “God’s Green World,” “I Love You This Morning,” “This Is My Holiday”) and witty patter songs (“You Haven’t Changed at All,” “My Love is a Married Man,” “Friends to the End,” “A Jug of Wine”). The sophisticated score, which must be the original orchestrations by Harold Byrns and vocal arrangements by Loewe himself as there has been no other official version, include some melodies later made famous in My Fair Lady and Gigi.
A light romantic comedy of its period, the music is much more complex than other shows of the period, but is excellently played by music director David Hancock Turner at the piano, George Farmer on double bass and Buddy Williams on drums. This new Acito version also includes two clever Lerner & Loewe songs from their earlier show, What’s Up: “The Ill-Tempered Clavichord” for Gerald and “You Wash and I’ll Dry,” for Bill and May, characters who do not have songs in the original. Nevertheless, the Acito version does have a few too many reprises particularly of the title song.
The Mufti formula gives the performers five days to learn the material, in this case a show without an original cast album and unknown to all but one of the actors. In this case, it does not seem to have been enough time to bring the material up to its optimum level. While beautiful blonde actress Madison Claire Parks as Katherine, the show tells so little about her that she is simply a woman who has fallen out of love with her husband and in love with a former flame. As her love interest Alex Maitland, Jess Manocherian is self-involved, arrogant and egotistical, lacking in the suavity and sophistication that would explain all of the women throwing themselves at him.
Will Reynolds captures the absent-mindedness of the scientist but is rather bland as Katherine’s husband Peter. Nicolas Dromard has suitably chosen to make their friend Bill who likes dirty jokes a hearty, hail-fellow-well-met character while Michelle Liu Coughlin as his flirtatious wife May is given little more to do than attempt to seduce all of the men she meets. Alyse Alan Louis as the strangely named Christopher (no explanation is given) as an animated tom girl is more successful. As Alex’s assistant Gerald, Jonathan Christopher maintains a cool air of mystery, only revealing his secret at the very end. Kent M. Lewis and Ian Lowe are amusing as two fraternity types who have been extremely successful back for the reunion.
The York Muftis perform a terrific service reviving worthy shows in “street clothes, without the trappings of a full production,” shows that might never be seen again. Marc Acito’s revival is a valiant effort but in this form The Day Before Spring seems both thin and underplotted even for a light romantic comedy. Now if only an original cast album would come out of this production, we might see more revivals restoring the show to its place in the Lerner & Loewe canon.
The Day Before Spring (through February 17, 2019)
Musicals in Mufti Winter 2019: Alan Jay Lerner Centennial Festival
York Theatre Company
Theater at Saint Peter’s 54th Street, east of Lexington, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-935-5800 or visit http://www.YorkTheatre.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission
Rare revival of Lerner and Loewe’s third collaboration offers a delightful and unfamiliar contemporary American-style score in a restored musical version.