A muddled story of greed vs. the good of the community plays second fiddle to the individual performances in O'Connell & Company's season-opener "Dear World."
"Dear World," with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman of "Hello, Dolly!" fame, premiered almost 50 years ago, set in post-war Paris and based on the play "The Madwoman of Chaillot." Although it is remembered as one of Herman's lesser shows, it did bring us one standout character, the slightly and sweetly crazed Countess Aurelia, and her charming corps of kooky cohorts. Together, they scheme to stand up to the rich evil-doers who plan to flatten all that makes Paris wonderful in order to mine oil riches they believe are beneath the city.
Yes, it's a wacky premise, and frankly it doesn't make much more sense when seen live onstage. If clarity and continuity in content are your thing, this isn't the place.
But the willing members of the audience aren't there for the environmental lesson. This "Dear World" spins on the strength of Mary Kate O'Connell as a masterful Aurelia, and her dear friends and fellow loony Parisian street royalty Constance (Amy Jorrisch) and Gabrielle (Katy Miner). Their conversations – meetings of minds that are not overly concerned with reality – are among the show's most entertaining moments, and their "Tea Party Trio" number, in which each singer goes her own way together, is a highlight.
Their three evil counterparts – named only as the Presidents and Prospector –- enliven their dastardly roles with equal relish. Matthew Gilbert, Nick Lama and Jon May sneer, glare and gloat with glee as they conspire to ravage the city in the name of money. All that stands in their way is a quaint cafe owned by Countess Aurelia, a bistro sitting atop the oil they covet.
However, a fourth conspirator, played and beautifully voiced by Matthew Mooney, falls in love with a waitress (Gianna Palermo, in dreamy mode) who works for Aurelia, and to win her heart he changes sides. The love affair is a light little subplot, adding a counterpoint to the heartbreak in Aurelia's past that left her mind a little mad.
Roger Vandette is the Sewer Man, an almost magical person who knows the truth about the secrets in the Paris underground and adds heft to the plan to subvert its exploitation.
All the players, which also include Jeremy Kreuzer and Joel Russlett and the children Myles Cerrato and Lily Flammer, have a good feel for the shows comic touches, and the performances have energy and style. Problems come in trying to make it all come together thematically and emotionally. Director Kelli Bocock Natale has done a fine job employing the cast's talents and familiarity with one another, but the material can't help getting in the way.
Sound balance was another issue at some points on opening night, when the music from the onstage band -- Donny Jenczka, Jay Wollin and Keith Galantowicz -- overwhelmed the singers. When the lyrical wordplay is so essential, you don't want to strain to hear it.
Overall, "Dear World" delivers its musical fable with an optimistic spirit in celebration of the difference one person, and her good friends, can make when the world itself is going mad.
A reworking of Jerry Herman's 1968 musical about a Parisian neighborhood and its most celebrated resident under siege from the forces of evil and greed. Presented by O'Connell and Company, in residence at the Park School, 4625 Harlem Road, Snyder, through Oct. 22 For tickets, (716) 848-0800 or www.oconnellandcompany.com.