Truth, justice and the American way– this Gershwin musical is, as they say, is as American as apple pie, Superman , the Brady Bunch–and in this case, not forgetting corn muffins! The lyrics are at times very witty and Gershwin’s music is exuberant, but it is way over the top and superficial.
I think most of the problem lay with the ‘book’, which is extremely dated, of its time, misogynist and flimsy . A wickedly delightful satire the performances by the combined team of Squabbalogic and the Sydney Philharmonia Choir of this semi – staged extravaganza are stellar however the show was way too long and became tedious.
It is 1931. In a frantic US presidential campaign it is announced that the candidate , J.P. Wintergreen promises to marry the winner of a beauty contest, whoever is crowned Miss White House, but he falls in love instead with Mary, who is working on the Miss White House quest, because among other things she bakes delicious corn muffins.
Wintergreen is elected President but the winner of the Miss White House contest, Diana, takes both legal and political action, threatening an international incident when it is alleged she is an illegitimate descendant of Napoleon- cue delegations from the French Ambassador. Wintergreen survives impeachment for breach of promise , Mary announces she is pregnant and then has twins and Diana marries the bumbling vice-president. Some how, in 1932, this play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
There is just a long table, decorated with the American flag, and some tables and chairs and assorted hand props are used.
Gershwin’s score includes allusions to musicals of the era (eg ‘Showboat’ , ‘Oklahoma’) and there are hints of Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs too. Gershwin’s wonderful score is toe tappingly good.
Exuberant conductor Brett Weymark finely brought control of the singers/actors, an excellent chamber-sized orchestra and several galleries of the choir.
The wonderful choir of more than 200 folk was thrilling, acting as a chorus, commenting on events, Senate members, enthusiastic crowds and, at one point engaged in a tightly choreographed exuberant dance/wave sequence.
Tall, dark and handsome David Berry looked perfect Presidential material and had a charismatic presence.
Courtney Glass plays his eventual wife Mary and is portrayed as intelligent, hard working , elegantly dressed and of-course she is expected to give up her job once she marries, becoming The Perfect Wife. In her other roles as a clomping around maid and a scrubber woman, Glass is almost unrecognizable.
Jaimie Leigh Johnson portrays her character, that of Miss White House winner, Diana, as a ruthless blonde bimbo. We mostly see her as a singing pink glittering Barbie like doll, or in Act 2 , in cahoots with the French Ambassador, as an over the top Marie Antoinette in a white dress with a huge headdress and hat. Johnson also does nice work in her other role, as dance leader, Miss Benson.
James Jay Moody who also directed the show has great fun stealing the show as Throttlebottom , the insignificant , almost invisible and appalling dressed Vice President. .His witty dialogue is delivered with impeccable comic timing. Will he get to become President ?
Nathan Farrow had great fun switching between his several roles, in particular that of Texan oil millionaire with a Stetson Gilhooley and the French Ambassador with a red beret and a small mustache mask.
Blake Erickson was magnificent in his assorted roles, effortlessly switching between them and leading the dancing at times .Rob Johnson in his various roles (eg Chief Justice ) was also terrific.
It is hard not to call to mind the Republican Party’s current embarrassments at this time when viewing this show.
This was a perhaps once in lifetime chance to catch a major but neglected musical .And here’s hoping that the wonderful Squabbalogic and the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs will collaborate on other shows in the future .
Running time 2 hours 45 minutes including one interval.
There were only two performance of OF THEE I SING, on the 26th and 27th September, at the Concert Hall , Sydney Opera House.