×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

King of Hearts

From time to time, Goodspeed Musicals comes to the rescue of underdog musicals, as it's doing twofold with a mainstage "King of Hearts" and a second-stage development production of a new version of "The Baker's Wife", both of which are set in France. There's always hope, these revivals seldom, if ever, reveal a lost jewel.

With:
Johnny - Joe Farrell German General/Luc - Bob Jester French Barber/Philippe/2nd American Soldier - Tom Souhrada Lt. Kost/Antoine - Greg Roderick 1st German Soldier/Philippe Desire - Kevin Browning 2nd German Soldier/Noel - Kilty Reidy Lt. Cooper/Jacques - Mark Brey 1st American Soldier/Aide/Alain - Kevin Loreque Genevieve - Joe Vincent Demosthenes - Gordon Joseph Weiss Jeunefille - Vanessa Lemonides Bridget - Katie Adams Madeleine (Madame) - Melissa Hart Duchess - Pamela Burrell Duke - Casper Roos The Barber - Gabor Morea Simone - Leslie Stevens Colette - Sally Mae Dunn The Bishop - Robert Aronson Marguerite - Rose McGuire

From time to time, Goodspeed Musicals comes to the rescue of underdog musicals, as it’s doing twofold with a mainstage “King of Hearts” (a 1978 Broadway failure) and a second-stage development production of a new version of Stephen Schwartz and Joseph Stein’s “The Baker’s Wife” (it closed out of town in 1976), both of which are set in France. Such humane gestures give Goodspeed a wider range of options from which to program. But although there’s always hope, these revivals seldom, if ever, reveal a lost jewel. With “King of Hearts,” the coy whimsy of its book and characters, most of them inmates of an insane asylum, inevitably limits its appeal.

Based on the 1966 Philippe de Broca anti-war movie starring Alan Bates, which had a cult following, the musical was first seen at Connecticut’s Westport Country Playhouse in 1977. With a book by Steve Tesich and directed by A.J. Antoon, it seemed to have potential but needed a lot of work and a new leading man. It arrived on Broadway a year later with a new lead, a new book by Joseph Stein and new director-choreographer Ron Field. It ran for six previews and 48 perfs.

For its “King of Hearts” revival, Goodspeed has reverted to the script by the late Tesich. Composer Peter Link and lyricist Jacob Brackman are still with us, and their score this time around differs slightly from Westport and Broadway. The music, though never strikingly original, has its charms, including French influences and hints of Southern country (Johnny, the musical’s central character, is an American private from Kentucky who’s in France on the last day of WWI).

But the musical’s primary problem is all those crazies, the sole remaining inhabitants of a tiny French town the Germans plan to obliterate just before the war ends at midnight. One thinks he’s a horse, another a sheep; another is a deaf-mute mime. The female romantic lead, Jeunefille (Vanessa Lemonides), is a virginal apprentice whore in ballerina costume who teeters en pointe most of the time. There’s a madame, a transvestite and more than one gay and/or bisexual person. No wonder Johnny (Joe Farrell), who volunteers to save the town and ends up being crowned the crazies’ King of Hearts, is bamboozled by them.

The musical’s anti-war message comes and goes, though presumably we’re meant to believe it’s far saner to live in a madhouse than in the utterly insane outside world. Certainly “King of Hearts” is one of the few musicals that comes to an end with six corpses on the ground and the hero rushing into the madhouse to be with the heroine.

In the demanding leading role, Farrell is a natural country-boy charmer, though his assumed Kentucky accent gets in the way of verbal clarity and at times he’s drowned out by the seven-piece pit band. The rest of the cast hurls itself into the mad proceedings, with lively turns by Gabor Morea as a campy barber, Melissa Hart as a lusty madame, Casper Roos and Pamela Burrell as a duke and duchess, Robert Aronson as a bishop, Joe Vincent as a ladies’ man named Genevieve (his mother was a woman, so why shouldn’t he have a woman’s name?), Lemonides (though her singing is shrill) and Gordon Joseph Weiss as the mute.

But a full evening of cute madness is hard to take, and though director Gabriel Barre has kept things moving at a merry clip, “King of Hearts” wears out its welcome. Also, there’s little evidence of the “delicacy” the creators claim for their show. The most effective scene is the simplest, and it involves none of the asylum inmates. It’s a classic example of anti-war co-existence in which four American soldiers begin to sing of the joy of “Going Home Tomorrow” and are joined by four German soldiers at the rear of the stage, singing the same lyrics in German. The song builds as all eight voices join in harmony.

Peggy Hickey’s choreography is bouncy in a generalized way. James Youmans’ slightly skewed set is a bit busy for the small stage, though the stage-filling wrought-iron fence and gate of the asylum is most effective. Pamela Scofield’s grab-bag costumes are sometimes overbusy.

King of Hearts

Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, Conn.; 398 seats; $47 top

Production: A Goodspeed Musicals presentation of a musical in two acts, with book by Steve Tesich, lyrics by Jacob Brackman, music by Peter Link. Directed by Gabriel Barre.

Creative: Musical direction and additional arrangements, Michael O'Flaherty; choreography, Peggy Hickey. Sets, James Youmans; costumes, Pamela Scofield; lighting, Tim Hunter; orchestrations, Dan DeLange; production manager, R. Glen Grusmark; production stage manager, Donna Cooper Hilton. Goodspeed Musicals executive director, Michael P. Price. Opened, reviewed Nov. 15, 2002. Running time: 2 HOURS, 25 MIN.

Cast: Johnny - Joe Farrell German General/Luc - Bob Jester French Barber/Philippe/2nd American Soldier - Tom Souhrada Lt. Kost/Antoine - Greg Roderick 1st German Soldier/Philippe Desire - Kevin Browning 2nd German Soldier/Noel - Kilty Reidy Lt. Cooper/Jacques - Mark Brey 1st American Soldier/Aide/Alain - Kevin Loreque Genevieve - Joe Vincent Demosthenes - Gordon Joseph Weiss Jeunefille - Vanessa Lemonides Bridget - Katie Adams Madeleine (Madame) - Melissa Hart Duchess - Pamela Burrell Duke - Casper Roos The Barber - Gabor Morea Simone - Leslie Stevens Colette - Sally Mae Dunn The Bishop - Robert Aronson Marguerite - Rose McGuire

More Legit

  • 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 [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. More Reviews Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’ Film Review: 'Who Will Write [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content