×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Night Governess

In a rare side-step into musical theater, Princeton’s McCarter Theater has mounted an ambitious but sterile adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 19th-century short story “Behind a Mask.” The first full-length musical commissioned by the theater, featuring book, music and lyrics by Polly Pen, “The Night Governess” is a stately chamber piece that resembles a gothic “Masterpiece Theatre” presentation with songs.

With:
Mrs. Coventry - Mary Stout
Gerald - Robert Sella
Ned - Danny Gurwin
Nellie - Danielle Ferland
Chloe - Erin Hill
Sir John Coventry/Chaos - John Jellison
Dean - Alma Cuervo
Jean Muir - Judith Blazer

In a rare side-step into musical theater, Princeton’s McCarter Theater has mounted an ambitious but sterile adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 19th-century short story “Behind a Mask.” The first full-length musical commissioned by the theater, featuring book, music and lyrics by Polly Pen, “The Night Governess” is a stately chamber piece that resembles a gothic “Masterpiece Theatre” presentation with songs.

The tale follows the exploits of a deceitful, manipulative governess from hell. Jean Muir — played with a delicious leer by Judith Blazer — is hired by a wealthy widow to provide instruction for her obnoxious teenage daughter. Ms. Muir is not what she appears to be. She has an elusive past as an actress, is a closet alcoholic, and is in league with a housekeeper in a plot to land a rich husband.

Composer Pen, best known for her Obie-winning score for the 1996 “Bed and Sofa” and the earlier “Goblin Market,” has transplanted Alcott’s murky tale, originally set in England, to Philadelphia. It is now set just before the start of the Civil War. She has constructed a piece dry in tone, lacking in suspense, but not without a bracing touch of whimsy.

Pen’s score lacks a bold melodic structure, but a few bright moments surface, most notably when Blazer and Alma Cuervo pair for “Odd Women,” a persuasive comment on Victorian women who lead private lives. The entire household prances about in night dresses for “The Somnambulists’ March,” an amusing sleep-walking confessional. Overall, however, the score is repetitious and musically laborious.

Blazer has a field day as the mysterious nanny — cautious, cool, cunning and calculated to freeze the blood. She also lends her bright and considerably rich vocal talent to the operatic score.

As the brooding housekeeper — who smokes cigars on her day off — Cuervo might have jumped from the pages of Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca.” Mary Stout, as the fidgety family matriarch Mrs. Coventry, flutters in the dithery tradition of Laura Hope Crews and has the tuner’s best number in “The Bathing Machine,” a recollection of a childhood visit to the Jersey shore.

The polished cast also includes Robert Sella, convincing as an insufferable young dandy; Danny Gurwin as a Coventry heir; Danielle Ferland as his obnoxious 16-year-old sister; and a lovely Erin Hill as a visiting cousin. John Jellison doubles as an aristocratic fisherman and a barking family dog with an attitude.

Lisa Peterson’s sharply paced staging is a considerable asset. The hoop-skirted costumes by Anita Yavich are positively gorgeous, but the set design, with its bright frame and semi-transparent scrim panels, fails to capture the dark mood of the piece. A little of the Brontes’ gothic grandeur might have helped.

The Night Governess

McCarter Theater, Princeton, N.J.; 1,075 seats; $47 top

Production: A McCarter Theater presentation of a musical in two acts with book, music and lyrics by Polly Pen, based on the story “Behind a Mask” by Louisa May Alcott. Directed by Lisa Peterson.

Creative: Choreography, Doug Varone. Musical direction, Alan Johnson. Set, Riccardo Hernandez; costumes, Anita Yavich; lighting, Mimi Jordan Sherin; sound, Jeffrey S. Carlson; orchestrations, Bruce Coughlin; stage manager, Cheryl Mintz. Artistic director, Emily Mann. Opened May 5, 2000. Reviewed May 7. Running time: 2 HOURS, 25 MIN.

Cast: Mrs. Coventry - Mary Stout
Gerald - Robert Sella
Ned - Danny Gurwin
Nellie - Danielle Ferland
Chloe - Erin Hill
Sir John Coventry/Chaos - John Jellison
Dean - Alma Cuervo
Jean Muir - Judith Blazer

More Legit

  • Michael Shannon Audra McDonald

    Michael Shannon, Audra McDonald to Star in Broadway Revival of 'Frankie and Johnny'

    Michael Shannon and Audra McDonald will portray two lovers whose one-night stand turns into something deeper in the Broadway revival of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” The production is being mounted in honor of playwright Terrence McNally’s 80th birthday. Shannon will play a short-order cook and McDonald will portray a waitress, roles [...]

  • Hamilton review London

    ‘Hamilton’ Helps Drive London Theater Attendance, Box Office to Record Levels

    Brits don’t just like going to the movies; they’re heading to the theater in greater numbers than before, too. “Hamilton” and other hits, particularly musicals, helped drive an uptick in box office receipts and attendance in London’s West End and across the U.K. last year, according to figures from the organizations Society of London Theatre [...]

  • Ethan Hawke

    Listen: Ethan Hawke on 'True West' and the Ghost of Philip Seymour Hoffman

    Ethan Hawke had a long relationship with Sam Shepard and his work — but he never thought he’d end up on Broadway in “True West.” That’s because Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly had already put their stamp on the show in the 2000 Broadway revival of the play. “I kind of felt that that [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Kaye Ballard, Star of 'The Mothers-in-Law,' Dies at 93

    Singer-comedienne Kaye Ballard, who starred alongside Eve Arden in the 1960s sitcom “The Mothers-in-Law” and was among the stars of the 1976 feature based on Terrence McNally’s farce “The Ritz,” died Monday in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 93. She had recently attended a screening of a documentary about her life, “Kaye Ballard: The Show [...]

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content