Review: ‘Chasing Nicolette’

Crime is up, employment down, and still our taxes soar ...." The year is 1224, the "modern times" of this appealing musical, and -- despite its Big Issues ("race, religion, color, class and money") -- the temptation to make it relevant is cleverly resisted. Performed by a uniformly fine cast, "Chasing Nicolette" is both melodic and witty, but the show is goofy, too, and likely to appeal to kids as well as adults.

Crime is up, employment down, and still our taxes soar ….” The year is 1224, the “modern times” of this appealing musical, and — despite its Big Issues (“race, religion, color, class and money”) — the temptation to make it relevant is cleverly resisted. Performed by a uniformly fine cast, “Chasing Nicolette” is both melodic and witty — all the dialogue is in couplets, and a can-you-top-this game develops as we wait for the next impossible rhyme — but the show is goofy, too, and likely to appeal to kids as well as adults.

Starting from an anonymous 13th-century French romance about star-crossed lovers — one Christian, one Muslim — book writer/lyricist Peter Kellogg and composer David Friedman added, among other characters, Valere, Aucassin’s servant. A sort of Provencal Pseudolus, it’s a part Bronson Pinchot plays to the hilarious hilt.

In the leading roles of the lovers, Jasika Nicole Pruitt is an endearing, lithe Nicolette and Davis Duffield is a wholesome, full-throated Aucassin; their voices sound terrific together.

The basic plot has the King of Carthage (Kingsley Leggs) sending his ward and designated prince, Nemur (Kevin R. Free), to find the king’s long-lost daughter, Nicolette, promised to Nemur as his bride. He dances by onstage, wearing the various costumes of the world (climbing the Alps, rowing a gondola) during his long, lonely 14 years of chasing Nicolette.

Meanwhile, back in France, Nicolette, kidnapped as a baby, is now a maid in the Count de Beauclaire’s palace, where Aucassin, the count’s poetic son, has fallen in love with her. The latter’s loyal servant Valere notices Nicolette is “slightly black” (all the Carthaginians are “Moors” as well as Muslims), allowing the couple to sing “Nothing in Common.”

The count tries to marry his son off to Gwendolyn (Rebecca Bellingham), the gorgeous blond daughter of his enemy (the excellent Richard White); Bellingham’s soaring soprano gives us “I Was Raised in a Convent,” as she becomes a kind of medieval Paris Hilton.

The upshot is, of course, that with a healthy measure of self-interest, the old fogies allow tolerance to triumph over bigotry, fathers and children are reconciled and the couples reconfigured so that lovers are united at last.

Songs range from the comic “Do Nothing” to the beautiful “I Love Her Still” to the lively “Sing to Her”; especially fine is “Stranger and Stranger,” which adds voice upon voice until the whole ensemble is singing together.

The three-arched set nicely suggests shifts between the exoticism of Carthage and the opulence of Europe, and the costumes are dandy.

Chasing Nicolette

Prince Music Theater, Philadelphia; 450 seats; $52 top

Production

A Prince Music Theater presentation of a musical in two acts with book and lyrics by Peter Kellogg, music by David Friedman. Directed by Ethan McSweeny.

Creative

Choreography, Karma Camp. Musical direction, Robert K. Mikulski; orchestrations, Christopher Jahnke. Sets, Neil Patel; costumes, Constance Hoffman; sound, Nick Kourtides; lighting, Howell Binkley; fight director, Rick Sordelet; production stage manager, Lori Aghazarian. Opened, reviewed Dec. 11, 2004. Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MIN.

Cast

Mostansir, King of Carthage - Kingsley Leggs Nicolette, his daughter - Jasika Nicole Pruitt Nemur - Kevin R. Free Count de Beauclaire - Bill Buell Aucassin, his son - Davis Duffield Lord Montescue - Dale Radunz Valere - Bronson Pinchot Count de Valence - Richard White Gwendolyn, his daughter - Rebecca Bellingham Mother Superior - Mary Martello
With: Shauntee Blow, Susan Fowler, David Alan Heayn, Melissa Kolczynski, J.J. Orgera, Valerie June Shaffer, Jay Wahl.

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