By Sarah Downs
Everyone get out your smartphones and buy a ticket to see this early Lerner and Loewe charmer. Unlucky timing prevented The Day Before Spring from receiving its full due on Broadway in 1945 (everyone was in thrall to some little show called Oklahoma!), but its time has come! In the right house, this show could have legs, because it has real music, real humor and real heart. The Day Before Spring is charming without being trite, and in this “Musicals in Mufti” adaptation at the York Theater Co., the excellent performances and direction give it life, celebrating the material in all its quirkiness and familiarity. Emphasis on the quirky.
The show is about – what else? – romance, or the lack thereof. Katherine Talbot (an ethereal Madison Claire Parks), is married to absent-minded Peter (Will Reynolds) glue specialist extraordinaire, who cannot un-stick himself from his work long enough to remember he has a beautiful wife. Yearning for something more Katherine immerses herself in the best-selling romance “The Day Before Spring” written by her college flame Alex Maitland ( Jesse Manocherian). His book is the “Eat, Pray, Love” of its time, minus the eating and praying. Well, it turns out the ‘love’ is Katherine herself. As she reads about the fateful night she and Maitland were to have eloped, she finds herself thinking ‘what if.’ When the opportunity to answer that question, in the form of a college reunion arises, Katherine cannot resist. Off Peter and Katherine go to Harvardale (or given the era, for the women a ‘sister’ school – may I suggest Radcliffe-cliff?), accompanied by a relentlessly cheerful pair of socialites, Bill and May Packard (Nicolas Dromard and Michelle Liu Coughlin). Once on campus old classmates lockjaw Harry Scott (Kent M. Lewis) and slackjaw Eddie Aarons (Ian Lowe) greet everyone in cringe-worthy rah-rah style. Maitland arrives, oozing seduction, trailed by adoring (and adorable) groupies Marjorie Willard (Brittany Santos) and Lucille Hopkins (Judith Ingber), as well as book agent Gerald Barker (Jonathan Christopher). It comes to pass that Peter has his own groupie, Christopher Randolph (scene stealer Alyse Alan Louis). Old flames rekindle, flirtation makes an appearance, and pining (lots of pining) occurs, as we wait to see if lighting will strike twice for Katherine and Maitland.
Lightning does strike in the casting. As Katherine, Parks shimmers with the kind of classic leading lady glow that you cannot manufacture. She has clear stage presence and a stunning soprano voice, shown to its best advantage in lyrical ballads such as “This is My Holiday” and “The Day Before Spring.” Reynolds, as her husband also possesses the ‘it’ factor that draws the eye. He is an excellent physical comedian with an easy tenor voice you wish you had the chance to hear more of. As his devoted crush Christopher (she’d stick to him like glue if he would let her) Ayse Alan Louis tears up the stage. Her rendition of “A Jug of Wine” nearly stops the show.
In his staging and design, Marc Acito makes a lot out of a little. And I do mean a little. A few cleverly painted music stands act as all-purpose set pieces, a rolling cart of books its own stage. Even the piano gets in on the act. Give me a p-i-a-n-o-o-o … — you’ll understand when you see the show.
The Day Before Spring is more traditional musical theater in the style of the late 1930’s, where dialogue alternates with set pieces. This is Lerner and Loewe before they had fully developed their unique theatrical ‘voice.’ The show made critics sit up and take notice, but it was with their next collaboration, Brigadoon, that Lerner and Loewe solidified their reputation as the next great theatrical partnership. Catching a glimpse of their creative evolution, on the cusp of stardom is a privilege. And its own reward
The Day Before Spring, book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe; directed and adapted by Marc Acito, with music direction by David Hancock Turner
WITH: Jonathan Christopher, Michelle Liu Coughlin, Nicolas Dromard, Judith Ingber, Kent M. Lewis, Alyse Alan Louis, Ian Lowe, Jesse Manocherian, Madison Claire Parks, Will Reynolds and Brittany Santos.
David Hancock Turner on piano, George Farmer on double bass, Buddy Williams on drums. Lighting design by Stephen O’Shea, Production Manager Kevin Maloof, Production Stage Manager Chris Steckel. For tickets click here or go to The York Theatre Company website. Limited engagement of 11 performances, concluding Sunday afternoon, February 17, 2019 at 2:30PM at The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s (619 Lexington Avenue, entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue). Run time 90 minutes with no intermission.