The founders of Prague’s subversive, underground Semafor Theater, Jiri Slitr and Jiri Suchy, penned “A Walk Worthwhile” in 1965, with the absurdist jazz opera going on to become a huge hit in a television film helmed by the young Forman. The story has 1960s mod girl Vanilla receiving a telegram containing bad news, good news and more bad news: her Aunt from Liverpool has died, bequeathing £1 million to Vanilla’s child. The problem is she’s never had one and is, indeed, one day away from finalizing a bitter divorce from Uli. Now, Forman has come to Vanilla’s rescue with a new production and rare return to live theater.
Smart cookie Vanilla (Jana Mala) considerers several options. She asks Uli (Zbynek Fric) to weigh “all the hatred and wrath against a million.” He serenades her with the beloved melody “You Are the Most Beautiful Landscape I Know,” a song so popular it is said every Czech knows it.
Another possibility is the proposal of the odious Lawyer (Lukas Kumpricht), who wants to marry Vanilla so she can again experience the joy of divorce. He fantasizes a symphony “in which a chorus of beautiful divorced women will sing.” And, lo and behold, they arise from various parts of the auditorium and converge onstage, remaining as a sort of bitchy Greek chorus (“She believes that for 21 years the world has revolved around her hips,” they dish about Vanilla).
But single motherhood has its advantages — such as not having to share £1 million with your husband. The solution? A dim-witted dude who will do the deed and depart, oblivious to the financial scheme.
Vanilla pounces on the adorable Postman (Petr Machacek), nearly raping him in her bathtub. But he is there on official business: A second telegram announces the Aunt from Liverpool (Tereza Halova) is alive and en route from the airport.
Forman stages her entrance in classic Chanel with a bevy of servants carrying not only her luggage (she changes outfits every few minutes) but also her pop art furniture and objets d’art.
Kept in the dark about the divorce and not wanting to cause an imbalance, she summons the Lawyer to revise her will so each of Vanilla’s offspring will get a million. Wooed by the Lawyer after she divulges the extent of her wealth, she sings a bitter torch song about her amorous — and financial — adventures, “I Wasn’t Yet Fifteen.”
Finally ending all the marital machinations, she writes a check to Vanilla for £1 million. A third telegram arrives: Again the death of the Aunt from Liverpool is reported, and she promptly plotzes. Uli and the Lawyer throw themselves at the new millionairess, but she tears the check in two and follows her Postman.
Forman’s jokes are raucous, from Vanilla plugging the Lawyer in the butt with a cello purloined from the orchestra pit to the pitfalls of the pre-pantyhose era. His twin sons, Petr and Matej, respectively provide directorial assistance and the on-target, eye-popping geometric designs.
Despite its jazz label, the score contains ’60s-style pop numbers, ballads, tangos, blues and sambas. Marko Ivanovic’s new orchestrations (the originals were lost) give the piece a kind of Vegas Rat Pack feel.
Fric is a hunky, virile-voiced Uli; Machacek a sweet, boyish Postman; and Kumpricht an unctuous Lawyer. Halova plays the lady from Liverpool like an Auntie Mame who chews nails for breakfast. Mala’s Vanilla on the verge of a nervous breakdown is a star-making performance. A belter par excellence, she’s also got the elegant, endless legs of a young Donna McKechnie.
As Vanilla does to the Postman, this show may literally charm the pants off you.