Musical numbers: “Time for a Journey,” “In Another Man’s Arms,” “Bishop’s Light,” “Tea,” “Let’s Go Today,” “American Dream,” “Poor Monsieur,” “A Woman of a Certain Age,” “The Good Ol’ Zenith Canoe Club,” “Don’t,” “Growing Younger,” “Too True to Be Good,” “I’m Not Going There,” “Quartet,” “How Was the Weather?,” “It’s Time for Goodbyes,” “Now You’re Talkin’,” “Easy,” “Old World Ways,” “The Choice,” “How Can There Be Any Happier Man?”
Hal Linden’s performance in “Dodsworth,” a new musical premiering at Casa Manana, is one of the show’s chief charms, but his likable presence also spotlights the show’s problems with style and content.
In Sinclair Lewis’ 1929 novel, the title character is a self-made man, a Midwestern auto tycoon. Sam Dodsworth has “thick hands” and his wife, Fran, can make him feel “as clumsy as a St. Bernard.” As portrayed Walter Huston in the 1939 film version — based on Sidney Howard’s Broadway hit — even at 60, Dodsworth is a rawboned, hickish eager-beaver.
Does any of this sound like dapper, easygoing Linden?
The novel follows the retired auto magnate touring Europe with Fran (Beth McVey), a pretentious woman 20 years his junior. She wants to be chic and young, and seeks flirtations — until Sam finds a love of his own. “Dodsworth” doesn’t have the full-force sardonic satire of “Babbitt,” but it allows Lewis to ruminate on (and mock) the claims of Old and New Worlds.
Basically, “Dodsworth” is a consoling, middle-brow social satire, and as such , it has the soul of a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. It’s mainstream Americana, earnest though mildly comic, as it sets a romantic tale against social issues that lend that tale some scope.
Yet the musical writer Stephen Cole and composer Jeffrey Sayer leans toward a light, somewhat Sondheimian sophistication.
Cole’s lyrics lack Sondheim’s polished wit, but Cole and Sayer are very accomplished with the clever cross-fades and scene-setting montages that are a Sondheim hallmark. “Don’t,” a dueling duet in a ladies’ room, is a barbed achievement in this vein. And an opening medley, as directed Bruce Lumpkin, is all smooth, bustling efficiency.
John Farrell’s set augments that smartness with a sharp design. Using back projections, the Art Deco unit set functions as business office, sleek hotel room and stateroom. The production is a top-grade effort.
But the material cries out for some of those big, heartfelt R&H numbers.
The creators craft a touching moment when the Dodsworths split and they supply Sam with a finale about taking a new step. But these aren’t enough to offset the overall lightweight feel.
The creators have slighted the fact that “Dodsworth” is about more than Sam’s romantic choice between his wife and a more sensible new love (the intelligent Dee Hoty in an unflattering wig). Sam is transformed Europe; he gets a few rough edges knocked off and gets excited some new ideas.
Yet the likable Linden at the end is pretty much the likable Linden at the start. He’s so comfortably charming that one doubts Fran’s sanity when she goes for the Europeans — they should be so suave. In one way she’s right, though: Linden is enjoyable, a light-comedy master. But like the show, the character he plays needs to be more substantial.