At first glance, Jean Giraudoux’s play The Madwoman of Chaillot might not seem the most likely of choices for composer Jerry Herman to convert to a musical, as he did with Dear World (now onstage at the Players Theatre). But when you think about it, Giraudoux’s Countess Aurelia has some things in common with Mame Dennis and Dolly Levi: She’s a strong, determined woman with pronounced eccentricities, and she believes in living life her own way.
Of course, in Aurelia’s case she’s gone further along the path of eccentricity than Mame or Dolly or even Albin in La Cage aux Folles; as you can tell from the title of the original, Aurelia (Meg Newsome) is living in a world divorced from reality altogether, dressing in lavishly outdated clothing (the setting of the play is 1945 Paris, but her attire is of another era), dwelling in a basement beneath a bistro and consorting with a sewerman (Ken Basque) and two other madwomen, Constance (Sandra Musicante) and Gabrielle (Cheryl S. Gutner), one with an affinity for younger men and the other a virgin with an invisible dog. Nevertheless, Aurelia is convinced that as A Sensible Woman, she can defeat the powerful forces of greed that have discovered oil beneath the streets of Paris and are willing to do anything to get their hands on it.
Those forces are personified by three Presidents (Leonard Rubinstein, Kay Siebold and Jay Bowman) and a prospector (Bob Fahey), and in their fever for money and their ruthless corporate outlook, they may seem to have a certain relevance to events and concerns of today. In other ways, too, Dear World, which was not a success in an overproduced Broadway version years ago and is seldom performed now, is something of a discovery, especially for Herman fans, who will delight in his score for the piece.
They may already be familiar with some of the songs, like I Don’t Want to Know and Kiss Her Now. But it’s worthwhile to hear them performed in the context of the show and to also hear the theme song of the villains here (Just a Little Bit More) and their “defense” by the sewerman (Have a Little Pity on the Rich) when Aurelia and her friends bring the bad guys to a sort of trial down in her basement.
Director Michael Newton-Brown has an obvious fondness for Dear World, and musical director Joyce Valentine and her orchestra do justice to the Herman numbers, which are also executed well for the most part by the cast. But nothing can quite resolve the issues of the show’s book, originally by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee and in this version revised by David Thompson. The action is sometimes confusing, and two of the play’s characters, the young executive Julian (Ren Pearson) and waitress Nina (Anna Trinci) are given pretty short shrift when it comes to making anything of their love story.
Still, there’s a charm to Dear World that may appeal to those willing to take a more offbeat excursion. The show continues through Jan. 22; call 365-2494 or go to theplayers.org.