Theatre Review: ‘Dear World’ at O’Connell & Company

Mary Kate O’Connell and Roger Van Dette in “Dear World” at O’Connell & Company.

Last night, I went to the opening of “Dear World” presented by O’Connell and Company at The Park School of Buffalo.

. . .a treat for fans of Broadway musicals. . .

“Dear World” is a musical with songs by Jerry Herman and book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It’s based on the Giraudoux play, “The Madwoman of Chaillot”, and it’s about three pixilated middle-aged ladies who band together with a crowd of misfits to stop greed and corruption in Paris. The theme of resisting greed and corruption is certainly still timely today.

Unlike Jerry Herman’s mega hits, “Hello Dolly!” and “Mame,” “Dear World” is rarely performed.  I’ve long been a fan of the dynamic cast album, however, especially Angela Lansbury’s electric interpretation of “I Don’t Want to Know.” So I wanted to be sure to catch this production!

The creators of “Dear World” originally envisioned it as a chamber musical and the O’Connell and Company’s production returns to this concept, eliminating the chorus and the massive sets that, according to Broadway lore, weighed the show down. Giraudoux’s plays are light and poetic and they border on fantasy, so leaving realism behind and encouraging the audience to use their imagination is a good fit and the show works well in the small Park School theatre.

Mary Kate O’Connell stars as the Countess and she especially shines in the Act I finale about how “one person can change the world.” Ms. O’Connell also does a heartfelt job with “And I Was Beautiful.” It’s an affecting moment and I kept wishing that it was played downstage and that the background movements were cut so that we could really focus on Ms. O’Connell’s meaningful performance and the lovely lyrics.

Playing opposite Ms. O’Connell and packing a lot of punch is singer Roger Vandette as Sewer Man. The Countess and Sewer Man are ably assisted in their mission to save Paris by the young lovers (Gianna Palermo and Matthew Mooney), Joel Russlett as a policeman, two sweet urchins (Myles Cerrato and Lily Flammer), and Jeremy Kreuzer who does a nice turn as the waiter.

The show sizzles when the three madwomen take to the stage – Ms. O’Connell is the staunch one with the plans, Amy Jorrisch is amusing as Constance, and Katy Miner positively glows as the giddy Gabrielle.

Director Kelli Bocock-Natale is known throughout WNY for her inventive staging and she’s particularly creative in this production with the three villains played by Jon May, Nick Lama, and Matthew Gilbert. They are the Ritz Brothers in tailcoats and the audience enjoyed their wild-eyed zany antics.

There’s very good choral work by musical director Donald Jenczka and terrific accompaniment by Mr. Jenczka on keyboards, Jay Wollin on cello, and Keith Galantowicz who covers the whole woodwind section of the orchestra in the course of the evening!

Lighting by David Guagliano is fine and kudos, too, to costume designers Pamela Snyder and Christine Coniglio and hat designer Valerie Warren.

Although “Dear World’s” book is ragged because the full length play was necessarily truncated to make room for the many musical numbers, it’s a treat for fans of Broadway musicals to be able to see a production of this seldom performed show here in WNY. There’s much to enjoy throughout the evening, and the show is appropriate for ages 10 and up.

Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission.

“Dear World” runs until October 22, 2017 and is presented at O’Connell & Company at The Park School of Buffalo. For more information, click here.