Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo opens at Springfield Contemporary Theatre this week. Dario Fo “was an Italian actor–playwright, comedian, singer, theatre director, stage designer, songwriter, painter, political campaigner for the Italian left-wing and the recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature…. Much of his dramatic work depends on improvisation and comprises the recovery of ‘illegitimate’ forms of theatre, such as those performed by giullari (medieval strolling players) and, more famously, the ancient Italian style of commedia dell'arte,” so starts the entry on him in Wikopedia.
Tony Mitchell in his study of Fo wrote, “[He was] arguably the most widely performed contemporary playwright in world theatre.” In a later place that statement is amended to exclude the United States. Except in university theatres and some daring regional theatres in the United States, Fo is an unknown name. When produced on Broadway in 1984 with Jonathan Price and Patti LuPone, even his most widely produced play Accidental Death of an Anarchist lasted less than two months.
Jim Assad, founding artistic director of Kansas City’s Crown Center American Heartland Theatre (now closed), opened the theatre in 1987 with Fo’s We Won’t Pay, We Won’t Pay, his second most often produced play. Assad later ruefully remarked that perhaps it was not the most opportune choice.
What was the problem? Maybe it was the mixture of commedia style and satire on Italian politics. Maybe Broadway theatre was not ready for that in the 1980s. Close in style to Fo, but not is satire, would be One Man, Two Guvnors (Broadway 2012) with James Comden, an adaptation of an 18th century commedia dell’arte play by Carlo Goldoni. Fo is certainly a descendant of Goldoni. Maybe it is time to revive Dario Fo.
Fo comes from a country where for years politics has been scandalous and outrageous; maybe satire on the situation comes naturally. We are getting a taste of such politics now in this country. Maybe time for Fo’s style has come for us. Can our playwrights pick up where Fo leaves off and be specific to our situation? Can our contemporary playwrights follow in the steps of Barbara Garson’s 1967 play MacBird that twisted the Kennedy assassination and Johnson ascension to the presidency onto the plot of Macbeth? Can our contemporary playwrights manage to equal or surpass what the nightly talk-show hosts are already doing on a nightly basis?
SHE LOVES ME
Music, Jerry Bock; lyrics, Sheldon Harnick; book, Joe Masteroff
This was the first production of MSU’s Summer Tent Theatre in its 55th season.
She Loves Me is based on a Hungarian play known in English as Parfumerie (1937) by Miklos Laszlo who fled the Nazis in 1938 to come to the United States. The play was adapted into the 1940 film The Shop Around the Corner with Jimmy Stewart, Margaret Sullivan and Frank Morgan. In 1949 it became a film with songs In the Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland, Van Johnson and S. Z, Sakall. (That film is famous for its scene with Garland and Johnson walking with a young child who was Liza Minelli.) In 1963 it became a Broadway musical but ran less than a year. It was produced and directed by Harold Prince with choreography by Carol Haney. In its cast were Barbara Cook, Daniel Massey, Barbara Baxley and Jack Cassidy.
This production might be seen as a launching pad for its creative team. Within the year Bock and Harnick wrote Fiddler on the Roof; by 1966 Joe Masteroff wrote the book for Cabaret that was produced and directed by Harold Prince.
For a musical that was mildly successful in its original Broadway production, it became a favorite for theatres all across the country. It has also received two Broadway revivals, 1993 and 2016. Part of that early success is due to the original Broadway cast record album that became a cult favorite.
It is a well-constructed strong book musical with distinct characters. It is not a big musical with really only one splashy production number that can be tailored to the abilities of the theatre company. It’s a bit sweet and sentimental that can be kept in check by the director. The songs are strong and melodic with one outstanding number in “Vanilla Ice Cream” that led to a nickname of “The Ice Cream Musical.”
When Barbara Cook started her cabaret career (see an earlier blog), she often included “Vanilla Ice Cream” in her list of songs for the evening. She would introduce it by calling it “the perfect theatre song.” It is an excellent example of what a song should do in a strong-book musical. The character begins in one place, and during the course of the song she discovers truths about herself that lead her to new decisions. Also, the story is at Point A and by the end of the song it has progressed to Point B.
Tent Theatre first presented She Love Me in 1970. SCT did a production in 1998. Drury University produced it three-four years ago. It has been a welcomed visitor on the Springfield scene.
She Loves Me holds up well and remains an audience favorite.