Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!The Allan Sherman Musical, conceived and written by Douglas Bernstein and Rob Krausz. Music and Lyrics from Allan Sherman. Additional music by Albert Hague. Directed by Allen E. Phelps.
". . .to live in sweet simplicity!"
In 1952 Television producers Goodson-Todman, made fledgling creator Allan Sherman the producer of "I've Got a Secret" which was a show he had created and brought to them the year before. In spite of his many difficulties with the producers he held that position until 1967. But before his final blow up he had re-created himself and his career as a successful song parodist, a writer of comic lyrics to well-known tunes. He performed them at his neighbor Harpo Marx's house parties to great acceptance.
It was 1962 when he produced his first album of such songs, "My Son, the Folk-Singer," which went on to major acclaim, climbing the Billboard Charts as a high-selling recording. The disc included his major single hit about a boy writing letters from his sleep-away camp, set to two sections of Ponchielli's ballet, "Dance of the Hours," from the opera "La Gioconda" made more famous in the Walt Disney film, "Fantasia." That song is the title tune from the show, now running at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, New York with a talented company interpreting the characters that emerge from Sherman's songs.
Jared Sigler as Barry Bachman and Patti DeMatteo as Sarah Jackman; photo: provided
For this production of the 1992 off-off-Broadway hit show which played off-Broadway later and also on Broadway briefly, Douglas Bernstein and Rob Krausz have built a sort of revuesical, a collection of disparate songs forged onto a basic book, that gives us a vast panorama of Sherman works written throughout the course of his life and career. Twenty-six songs and two medleys of shorter pieces span the two hours of the show. It should be noted that many famous writers of the time, or their estates, refused to allow Sherman to parody their works, including Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, II, Irving Berlin, Kurt Weill, Meredith Willson and Lerner and Loewe. Sherman did Rodgers and Hammerstein one better, ultimately; after his death, in the creation of this show we can see, his heirs used his work to create a parody of the R&H musical flop "Allegro" and complete the idea in parodist terms.
Hammerstein had conceived this musical as a birth-to-death creation that would examine musically and dramatically every aspect of a man's life. He failed to do so, and the show ends with his divorce and departure for his family's home instead of pursuing a brilliant and successful career. With Rodgers he wrote some enduring tunes for the show including "A Fella Needs a Girl," and "The Gentleman is a Dope." In "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!" Bernstein, Krausz and of course Sherman take Barry from before birth to one-step before dying in Florida among other very old Jewish folks in permanent retirement. The show, silly as it is, works wonderfully and is constantly entertaining.
In addition to the well-known and slightly obscure choices from the Sherman oeuvre, the authors have included three songs from his four-performance 1965 Broadway musical, "The Fig Leaves Are Falling," with original music by Albert Hague. Based on Sherman's 1962 divorce (and marriage) the show originally starred Barry Nelson, Dorothy Loudon and David Cassidy.
Director Allen E. Phelps and choreographer Eugene Contenti have created a seamless production with five very talented performers bringing Sherman's songs and the authors' characters to vivid life. Jared Sigler and Patti DeMatteo play Barry and Sarah along with four other minor characters. Nolan Burke plays ten different people; Ricky Gee plays nine characters; the entrancing Amy Fiebke plays eight more. Of the final three named, Ricky Gee is the only one whose voice did not always carry to the back of the theater. When he was hitting the tunes and the dialogue hard he was just fine, his characters well defined and his singing the same. However, in several instances whatever he contributed to the show was just lost in the not very large theater that is The Theater Barn.
Nolan Burke did much better throughout and he was both funny and touching as Uncle Phil. Amy Fiebke played an assortment of women who make a difference in Barry's life and her wonderful sense of the manic was present in many of them which was a consistent delight to watch and hear. Her rendition of "Mexican Hat Dance" in particular will live long in my memory.
Jared Sigler was a remarkably interesting choice for Barry. He has a wide face, an open face, that shows emotion wonderfully in a character whose emotions come and go so quickly that for the most part he doesn't seem to have any at all. His rendition of the second act ballad, "Did I Ever Really Live?" was an actual thing of beauty and in the duet that followed, "Like Yours," sung in their bedroom with his wife Sarah was an even match for what had just come before.
Patti DeMatteo, with a slightly scratchy voice and a few verbal gaffes, made Sarah a delectable and desirable dish of high-grade matzoh-ball soup. This actress knows how to use glee as an attribute and she makes it pay off in many moments in the show, particularly in the above named duet. She and Sigler make a lovely couple on the stage.
I liked Abe Phelps set and how it worked from scene to scene and the projections introducing each new "act" in the lives of Barry and Sarah were fun. The remarkably easy transitions from scene to movement are a credit to the director, Allen E. Phelps, and his dance partner Eugene Contenti. There was not one awkward or forced moment and that is so very unusual. Phelps has also guided his cast through their various characters with a lovely eye to details which makes their many different appearances appropriate and effective.
You have to like this sort of thing to really enjoy this sort of thing. Luckily for me and for people I was able to talk with a lot of us do. If you recall his records, or Sherman's appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, or his voicing Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat, this would be a show for you to see. Sherman died young, just 49, in 1973 and it doesn't seem possible today to think that we've been without his Jewish wit and cutting insights for that long. At least now we have a chance to try him again. . .and have a ball, bubbelah.
Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah! plays at The Theater Barn at 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, NY through August 21. For tickets and information call the box office at 518-794-8989 or go on line at www.theaterbarn.com.