Carmelina Campbell (Caroline Altman), the title character of the 1979 musical Carmelina, has been collecting child support from three American GIs – but which is the real father of her daughter: Carleton (Rudy Guerrero, left), Walt (Will Springhorn Jr., center), or Steve (Trevor Faust Marcom)? 42nd Street Moon revives the Alan Jay Lerner-Burton Lane-Joseph Stein musical. Photo by David Allen
Charming — that’s the word that kept running through my brain while watching the 42nd Street Moon production of Carmelina, the largely forgotten 1979 musical by Alan Jay Lerner (of My Fair Lady and Camelot fame) and Burton Lane (of Finian’s Rainbow and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever fame).
It’s easy to see why this gently old-fashioned show didn’t make it in the late ’70s. Based on the Gina Lollobrigida comedy Buena Sera, Mrs. Campbell (the same inspiration for Mamma Mia!), the musical feels as if it’s from a different time. Consider some of the new shows on Broadway in ’70: Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and They’re Playing Our Song. In that crowd, Carmelina seems like a throwback to the early ’60s, when musicals were on the cusp of becoming relics of a now-faded golden age.
That’s not at all to say that Carmelina isn’t worthwhile. It absolutely is. Lane’s melodies and Lerner’s (mostly) clever lyrics can be captivating and, as previously mentioned, completely charming. The story is well told, especially in the first act, when the plot is set up.
The spirited Carmelina (Caroline Altman) was only 17 when US soldiers drove Germans out of her small Italian village. Over the course of a month, the young woman became friendly with three American GIs. One of them left her with a daughter, and after years of living a fiction about an American hero named Eddie Campbell, Carmelina has to face the music. The three men, along with other survivors of their regiment are attending a reunion.
It’s such a pleasure to watch pros like Lerner and Lane attack a number like “Someone in April,” Carmelina’s romantic recollection of her time with the soldiers. What could be crass becomes sweetly comic. And when we meet the Americans (Will Springhorn Jr., Trevor Faust Marcom and Rudy Guerrero), rather than being brash and bold, they sing a beautifully harmonized “One More Walk Around the Garden,” a song about age and memories and reconciling the past.
The other song that deserves to be better known in this score is “It’s Time for a Love Song,” sung by Vittorio (Bill Fahrner), a suitor to Carmelina. It’s a love song as full of maturity as it is romance, and Fahrner’s version is warm and poignant.
If the first act of Carmelina feels like delicious set up, the second act, which is much less musically substantial, feels like a rush to the happy ending, which is a shame.
Director Greg MacKellan makes a strong case for Carmelina as a show worthy of a second look, and his cast and music director Dave Dobrusky on piano (with assists on acoustic guitar from cast member Michael Doppe) do the best thing the could possibly do with the material: they let the charm shine through.
I talked to Lynn Lane, widow of composer Burton Lane, Jenny Lerner, daughter of lyricist/book writer Alan Jay Lerner, and 42nd Street Moon Artistic Director Greg MacKellan for a feature in the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the story here.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
42nd Street Moon’s Carmelina continues through Nov. 18 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. Tickets are $25-$75. Call 415-255-8207 or visit www.42ndstmoon.org.