Book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Dir. Bob Knuth. With Anita Hoffman, Sara Minton, Mary Redmon. Circle Theatre.
Poor Jerry Herman. It’s clear why he wanted to musicalize Jean Giraudoux’s play The Madwoman of Chaillot. Like his earlier hits, Hello, Dolly! and Mame, the story centers on an eccentric woman who transforms reality to fit her own whimsical worldview. What’s more, Herman’s signature musical style—composed of chin-in-the-air anthems and wistful torch songs—is trop à propos to the play’s oh-so-Gallic Parisian setting.
It’s also easy to see why the show failed on Broadway. The satire is vague, so much so that it’s never clear what the authors are attacking in their story of evil corporate types who want to drill for oil under Paris. And the solution—lock all the bad guys in the sewer—well, that’s not really satisfying, either.
Circle Theatre takes a game shot at resurrecting this uneven piece, but the results are—how do you say?—comme ci, comme ça. As the chief madwoman, Hoffman grounds her Parisian whimsy with an air of practicality; she’s just as adept with Herman’s strophic tunes, providing emotional contours that counteract the potential for monotony. She’s ably abetted by her fellow madwomen, played by Minton and Redmon (in a particularly charming caricature). The rest of the players are a mixed bag, ranging from passable to almost unwatchable, but given the aimlessness of the score and book, it’s hardly their fault.—Kay Daly