BENNINGTON, Vt. -- Due to popular demand from last winter, and a scheduling glitch that left a season schedule opening, Oldcastle Theatre Company is offering up a second dose of its previously successful musical, "Northern Boulevard."
Based on a story by Kevin Brofsky, the show was directed by Oldcastle co-founder Eric Peterson, with music and lyrics by longtime Broadway and Hollywood stalwart Carleton Carpenter, a Bennington native.
There were two different faces from the original cast in the characters of Jerry and Michael, who were originally played By Gil Brady and Patrick Thomas Spencer
Set from 1941 to 1981 in a Queens deli, we find Jerry (Brad Thomason) and Roslyn (Cotton Wright), joined by Roslyn's parents Saul (Richard Howe) and Celia (Christine Decker), and Jerry's former flame Dorothy (Jessica Raaum). Rounding out the cast are son Michael/the young man (Brandon Duncan), Margo/Connie (Amanda Elise Garcia), and four unforgettable ethnic landladies (Cheryl Howard).
Thomason and Wright wrestled with the passage of time in their marriage and the credibility of increasing wisdom, even when making missteps. Raaum's permissiveness was tantalizingly palpable. If one solo song stood out for its belting excellence, it was Raaum's rendition of the theme, "Northern Boulevard," which this reviewer had a front row seat to appreciate.
The show's two younger actors, Duncan and Garcia, delivered solid renditions, as well as some fine dancing. Both of them should have a promising future.
Beloved Oldcastle veteran Decker began the show as
Howe deserves bows for excellence. Of all the characters, his aging process was the most believable, and his physical acting as an old man shouted out wobbly pain, and vexation of the willing but incapable.
Finally, show-stealer Cheryl Howard was in a league of her own. What actor wouldn't salivate to take on Jewish, Irish, Italian and black landladies, all in one show? Not only were Howard's caricatures raucous nods to pop culture stereotypes, but everyone could tell the woman was having just as much, if not more, fun than the rest of us. That says it all: Her performance was genius.
Carl Sprague's set was austere yet artistic, the bar stools a centerpiece spanning the decades. Lights by David V. Groupe heightened the emotional pull of several key numbers. Period costumes by Deborah Peterson conveyed maturation vital to the story's development, as did the temporally evolving choreography of Ron Ray.
Live music direction and piano performance by Jeffrey Buchsbaum, assisted by Mike Chapman on drums, was itself worth the price of admission, and kept feet tapping throughout.
The show ran just over two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
There are several great literary themes, and the trick for any writer is how to tell the tale. Brofsky offers up a poignant portrayal of one seminal subject - the cycle of life - and his choice of setting and characters is quintessentially American: Many hued candles in the melting pot.
Carpenter's superlative musical adaptation was alive with pizzaz and rife with clever lyrics. This included a salute to the late Broadway mogul, David Merrick.
Some inside baseball for audiences: In 1944, Merrick, a rookie producer himself, staged a two week bomb, "Bright Boy," in which Carpenter, then a 17-year-old Bennington High School unknown, got his first professional acting break while auditioning on a lark. Cycle of life, indeed: A cerebral touch in Mr. Carpenter's lyrics.
Reprises can be risky, but Peterson and his troupe pulled it off. This reviewer was thrilled by his second time around; those who never got their first should go have a whirl at it.
"Northern Boulevard" runs through July 21 at Oldcastle Theatre Company at 331 Main St. in Bennington. For tickets and information call 802-447-0564 or visit oldcastletheatre.org.
Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist from southern Vermont. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.