Saroyan's 1943 novel caught the sentimental spirit of the time
- the movie the same year won an Oscar - but the musical adaptation by
Galt MacDermot (yes, of Hair) and William Dumaresq flopped on Broadway
in a more cynical 1984.
passed, though, for us to appreciate Saroyan's affectionate embrace of
small-town working-class Americana, while John Fulljames's staging (a
triple co-production of the Young Vic, the Watford Palace and the Opera
Group) displays all that is best (and some of what's weakest) in this
lovely little folk opera.
father of the
family at the story's centre has died and the eldest son has gone off
to war, and the youngest son has trouble understanding either of these,
his incessant questions adding to his mother's pain. Meanwhile the
teenaged middle son gets a job at the local telegraph office delivering
messages, too many of which bring bad news from the War Office.
don't need me
to tell you where this story is going, only to assure you that Saroyan
finds a way for the warmth of the world he has created to absorb
further sadness and find its way to carry on.
almost completely sung-through score includes several lovely melodies,
though as in Hair many of them are barely a single chorus long, only a
few developed into full songs. Dumaresq's lyrics are significantly
inferior, either pedestrian prose sentences squeezed uncomfortably into
the melodies or straining for rhymes like army/barmy and Marcus/park
includes the teenager's perky job application 'I Can Carry A Tune', the
sweet soldiers' hymn 'Everlasting' and a bouncy comic number for the
telegraph man and his lady friend.
Slovick as the
teenager and Helen Hobson as his mother skilfully and sympathetically
carry much of the dramatic weight of the production, with strong
support from Jo Servi as the telegraph man and Terel Nugent as the
soldier son's buddy.
the chorus of more than sixty townspeople has been drawn from local
amateurs, and they blend in smoothly with the pros, providing not only
musical backing but a visual sense of the community that is as much the
hero of the story as the central family.
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- The Human Comedy - Young Vic 2010