"Good News," the terrific 1927 "college musical" by hit-tune kings Henderson, DeSylva and Brown, opened at the Shaw Festival's beautiful little Royal George Theatre last week and the production is just as zany and delightful as anything you'll see this summer.
If, as the donnish Iris Murdoch wrote, art deals truthfully with the inevitable defeat of humankind life's contingencies, then "Good News" clearly falls into the arena of light entertainment. I mean, it's not even snacks for thought. But as someone world-weary and equally sick of Manuel Noriega and "General Hospital," I can't remember when I've enjoyed a production more.
The stars of this show are director Allen MacInnis, choreographer Bob Ainslie and musical director Christopher Donison. This production is the sparkling result of a brilliant collaborative effort, and these guys should be carried onstage on the cast's shoulders. Time and time again, the audience broke into loud applause and cheers over the sweetheart duets and crackerjack tap ensemble numbers only to be zapped by some other charming and unexpectedly crazy bit of visual/musical/comedic fun.
This is a show that specializes in the nice touch.
OK, OK. You know the story. Tait College football star Tom Marlowe flunks Professor Kenyon's astronomy exam just before the big game. His girl gets him a tutor who happens to be madly in love with him, and it takes him 10 seconds to reciprocate. Therefore, he's not thinking astronomy and nearly flunks again. Actually he does flunk again, but school spirit warms the cockles of Kenyon's heart and . . .
Along the way, we get stoned out of our minds on the play's memorable musical numbers -- "The Best Things in Life are Free," "Button Up Your Overcoat" (which begins as a love song and explodes into a tap dance extravaganza), "Varsity Drag," "You're the Cream in My Coffee," "Good News," "Sunny Side Up," "Lucky in Love" and more more more. Some are lyrical; some are killers; some are charming solos; others bring on the whole raucous Tait crowd. All are spectacularly well-directed and beautifully performed.
Kudos to the whole cast. Shawn Wright and Michelle Todd as the lovers are beautifully matched vocally and physically and bring just the right mix of whimsy and furrowed brow to their star-crossed romance. Deann DeGruijter you may remember as the crocodile in the Shaw production of "Peter Pan."She's mated with the very funny and talented Richard Binsley, a sort of rubber-faced James Woods, if you can imagine it.
There are many others here who deserve applause: Gail Hakala, the irrepressible Karen Wood, Richard March and many more.
The production design by Leslie Frankish is witty, clever, and as much fun as the lyrics. Set changes are worked into production numbers with such theatrical style that they garnered as much applause as the performances. Frankish's costumes are likewise colorful and loaded with visual puns.
Look, there's a lot of theater around here in the summer time, but you just can't miss with this one.