There’s a real fountain and a collection of World War II ballads, but neither is enough to bring life to “Three Coins in the Fountain,” a production that falls victim to a limp book and rote performances. A program note insists the inspiration for this version is John Secondari’s original novel and not the more famous 1954 movie, but regardless of heritage this patchwork production shows little potential.
Paul Blake, executive producer of St. Louis’ 12,000-seat Muny Theater, has collected a large number of lesser Jule Styne works, all with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. In collaboration with Doris Baizley, he has written a simplistic tale of three American women in Rome circa 1954. Two are entertainers, one (Michele Pawk) trying to get home to Brooklyn, the other (Maureen Brennan) fleeing a broken relationship in Paris. The third (Leslie Denniston) is a Life magazine photographer who wants to go to Korea and take pictures of a war that ended the previous year.
Blake, who also directed, has two-dimensional men to go with the women — an American promoter (Joel Higgins) about to open a nightclub (the romantically named Club Kansas); his pal (Lara Teeter), a footloose American dancer; and an Italian photographer (James Clow). Although the show is apparently supposed to be upbeat, Blake has weighed it down with a series of I-will-wait-for-you numbers including “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” “I’ll Walk Alone” and “It’s Been a Long, Long Time.” The most absurd song-action juxtaposition is the use of “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week)” as the six players prepare for a night on the town.
The singers are not tested by the material, and the arrangements make the songs considerably more lighthearted than in their original versions, when they mostly were messages of fidelity and hope for loved ones far away. Both Higgins, as the club owner, and Denniston, as the photographer, sing well enough, though Higgins missed some lyrics on opening night. Teeter gets only limited opportunity to show off his tap-dancing prowess, and neither Pawk nor Brennan has any opportunity to display her talents. Clow is stiff, and St. Louis actor Wayne Salomon gets most of the laughs in an extremely broad portrayal of a Paris-based American.
The technical work is adequate, though the choreography, by Gemze de Lappe and Mike Phillips, uses only the small midsection of the Muny’s huge stage, and set designer William Eckart, despite a nice rendition of the Trevi Fountain, brings forth a Rome nightclub with all the appeal of a cyclone fence.
The venerable score will strike responsive chords in only a limited audience; “Time After Time,” the youngest song, dates to 1966, and the title number is from 1954. The others are from 1942-48, and also include “It’s Magic,” “Time After Time,” “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” “The Brooklyn Bridge,” “Put ’em in a Box,” “The Song’s Gotta Come From the Heart” and “Give Me Five Minutes More.”