Review: Tyne Daly Goes Mad with the York Theatre’s ‘Dear World’
By Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, February 27, 2017
The York Theatre Company presented its 22nd season of Musicals in Mufti program this year. “Mufti” means ordinary street dress, and their mission is to present the “underappreciated” or little-seen musicals in concert form with minimal production values and the actors holding scripts due to limited rehearsal time.
The final production of this year’s series is Dear World, the musical version of The Madwoman of Chaillot, the 1945 French play by Jean Giraudoux. With music by Jerry Herman (known for his mega-hits Hello, Dolly! and Mame), and book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (Auntie Mame and Inherit the Wind), the show opened on Broadway in 1969 to lukewarm reviews. At the time, it was the book that received the most criticism, and has subsequently been rewritten by David Thompson, the award-winning musical-book writer. With the critics universally praising the performance of Angela Lansbury, who originated the role of Countess Aurelia, the star quotient was present in this production as well, with Tyne Daly now taking on the same role. Ms. Daly won the Best Actress Tony Award for the 1990 Broadway revival of Gypsy, but is probably most known for her Emmy-winning performance on the popular TV show, Cagney & Lacey.
Dear World takes place in Paris where a consortium of greedy businessmen want to drill for oil in the middle of the city. (“The Eiffel Tower is already a derrick!”) Countess Aurelia leads a grassroots organization of oddball citizens who rise up to stop the madness that could destroy their beloved city and their ‘dear world.’ The dramatic situation certainly made me think of current U.S. politics, and there were a number of lines resulting in audience reactions of knowing laughter and occasional applause. (Each of the businessmen is called “Mr. President,” for instance.) How au courant! There’s a French saying: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”—”the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing,” usually translated as “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” The phrase came to mind as I sat in the theater hearing the song “One Person,” describing how if one person stands up and is added to one person, who is then added to by one person, change can happen. It could be something of an anthem for today’s marches of resistance and protest.
Dear World is a “message” musical with a specific idea to present, so despite the rewrite, it seemed to me that the characters were only superficial caricatures and the situations felt a little forced. Nonetheless, the concept provides a platform for some wonderfully witty songs (“Have a Little Pity on the Rich”) and for some outrageously hilarious portrayals – especially Madame Constance, the Madwoman of the Market (Alison Fraser) and Madame Gabrielle, the Madwoman of Montmartre (Ann Harada) at their tea party. These “madwomen” dressed in fabulously eccentric costumes that were decidedly not “mufti”, but added delightfully to their characters.
Generally, the performers had strong voices and stage presence, and I particularly liked the harmonies created when singing together. The music director, Christopher McGovern, provided rich musical backing with only a piano, aided by his “orchestra” of one, Louis Tucci (who played the bass and the accordion).
Leading the proceedings was the wonderful Tyne Daly. As Countess Aurelia, she had her own peculiar logic that made curious sense. Hers was the only character that had moments of touching reality along with the humor.
Although Dear World has a worthwhile message and some wonderfully entertaining moments, I can understand why it never won more positive attention. Still, I’m happy that the York Theatre Company brought Dear World to the stage so that audiences who love musical theater can experience at least some version of the musicals we may have missed.
Dear World presented by The York Theatre Company Musicals in Mufti Series at Saint Peter’s, 619 Lexington Avenue, NYC. Running through March 5, 2017. Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman; book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee; revised version by David Thompson based on Madwoman of Chaillot by Jean Giraudoux. Director: Michael Montel; music director/piano: Christopher McGovern; orchestra: Louis Tucci. Cast: Tyne Daly, Alison Fraser, Ann Harada, Lenny Wolpe, Dewey Caddel, J. Bernard Calloway, Ben Cherry, Stephen Mo Hanan, Erika Henningsen, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Peter Land, Gordon Stanley, Kristopher Thompson-Bolden.
Cover: (l. to r.) Alison Fraser, Tyne Daly and Ann Harada in ‘Dear World;’ photo: Ben Strothmann.