The crackerbox tuner “Liberty Inn,” transposing Carlo Goldoni’s 1751 “Mirandolina” to 1787 America, gains heft from B.T. Ryback’s pleasing and often lush tunes, more than serviceable lyrics by librettist Dakin Matthews and an engaging cast. Still, more transposition will probably be required if the piece is to enjoy a life beyond the Andak Stage Company’s premiere engagement.
Everyone loves innkeeper Mirandolina (Deborah May); when she’s onstage they sing of her stellar qualities, and when she’s away they sing their wishes she’d return. With her ingenuous smile and sweet, light soprano May just about lives up to the billing, though the character’s crass manipulation of all who cross her path makes it tough to swallow all that guff about her sublimity.
Matthews aptly turns her hapless suitors into an Early American cavalcade of international boobies. Norman Snow’s gruff, woman-hating Hessian captain commands company and audience as if we were his regiment, while John DeMita’s impoverished French marquis is a hilariously downtrodden Pepe Le Pew. (John Combs’ British count falls short, he and helmer Anne McNaughton settling for vague bonhomie instead of the dour hauteur his lyrics suggest.)
At just under three hours “Liberty Inn” is musically top-heavy, as if any excuse for a number has been acted upon, though when Ryback’s melodies are as lovely as those for “It Can’t Be Love” or the Sondheim-tinged “Together” there’s little reason for regret.
The plotting seems misshapen as well, likely due to excessive faithfulness to the source material. Played out through a dozen songs and reprises, the captain/Mirandolina intrigue feels like the main story, a variation on Mrs. Levi’s Vandergelder makeover in “Hello, Dolly!” Though by any measure the transformed captain has earned her affection, he’s shuffled off in favor of a character who has barely sung since early in act one. It doesn’t sit right.
Adding to the imbalance is a subplot involving a designing actress (Charlotte DiGregorio in full diva mode), who just disappears with no wrapup at all.
Quintessential theater man Goldoni would surely invite “Liberty Inn” to take even more liberty with his creation, in the service of a more satisfying whole.