Sunday, April 27, 2008

Take Me Along

Whenever I sit down to write a review of an Irish Rep production I think of the movie “L.A. Story.” Steve Martin played a TV weatherman who couldn’t get time off for a fling with a new girlfriend, so he prerecorded his forecasts and left town. He figured the weather in southern California was always the same, so with a change of sports jackets he recorded a few different spots, smiling and announcing how beautiful the next day would be. The humor, besides the idea of prerecorded weather, was that a huge storm hit the area and no one had taken in their lawn furniture, which flew through the air and caused much damage, causing him to lose his job.

The first half of that applies to reviewing an Irish Rep play. I know the acting will be excellent, the direction also will be, as well as the sets and anything else connected to the show. All I have to do is provide the appropriate names. In the case of the winning current production, Take Me Along, those would be the following: cast -- Ashley Robinson, Nick Wyman, Donna Bullock, Beth Glover, Don Stephenson and Emily Skeggs in the primary roles, backed by a skilled supporting cast; direction -- Charlotte Moore, who is also the theatre’s artistic director, and sets -- James Morgan, who was sitting in front of me, which was nice because I could tell him personally how much I liked the colorful, almost cartoon-like mural of a small town that is the dominant element of the set.

This production also needs a shout-out to the musicians, under the direction of Mark Hartman -- Steve Gilewski (bass), Nicholas Di Fabbio (banjo, guitar) and Jeremy Clayton (woodwinds) who play the songs of Bob Merrill's 1959 musical version of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness!.

Take Me Along is a refreshing change from all the current shows about highly dysfunctional families, portraying an idealized slice of life in a small Connecticut town on the Fourth of July in 1920. The mother and father love each other and show it, and the two romances end happily. A director’s note said this is the family O'Neill always wished for but never had.

I had never heard of this musical, but I probably should have because its creator was no slouch. Bob Merrill was an American pop songwriter ("How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?"), theatrical composer and lyricist, and screenwriter. He made his Broadway debut in 1957 with New Girl in Town, a musical adaptation of O'Neill's Anna Christie. His other credits as composer-lyricist include Carnival!, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Henry, Sweet Henry and Hannah…1939. His most famous musical is Funny Girl, for which he wrote lyrics ("People," included) to composer Jule Styne's score. Merrill was nominated for a Tony Award eight times. (Following years of ill health, he committed suicide in 1998.)

Take Me Along includes such charming tunes as "Staying Young" and the sweet duet "But Yours."

As predictably fine as Irish Rep productions are, I won’t “prerecord” my reviews because I wouldn’t want to miss a show. The only suggestion I have is to eliminate the intermission, which was so long people all around me were commenting. My friend Mary said she wondered if she’d still remember the story when we finally returned to it. I’m sure it had to do with trying to accommodate audience members waiting for the limited restroom facilities, but if people can sit through a two-hour movie without a break they ought to be able to sit through a delightful two-hour musical without one. Please think about it, Charlotte.

Take Me Along has been extended through May 4 at the Irish Repertory Theatre in Chelsea. For more information visit

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