- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2007

Like the first three-day weekend of the season, you have such high hopes for the musical version of “Summer of ‘42.” James Kronzer’s set is as welcoming as a Winslow Homer painting with its picture postcard frame, weather-beaten New England seaside cottage and sand dunes touched with honeyed glints of sunlight.

The sky is a big bowl of blue over the heads of the teenagers frolicking on the beach in Rosemary Pardee’s pert World War II-era costumes, rendered in a crisply patriotic palette of red, white and blue. Looking at this scene, all you want to do is slap on flip-flops and dive in.

Then the orchestra strikes up, and suddenly the color drains out of this production. For all its visual beauty and the strength of the performances, the limp and inconsequential score — an amalgam of pallid ballads and big band music — keeps “Summer of ‘42” in perpetual low tide.

Based on the 1971 movie adapted by Herman Raucher from his novel, “Summer of ‘42,” the story is burned into the memory of many a hormonal teen and wistful adult male (mainly due to the scorchy shimmer of actress Jennifer O’Neill playing Dorothy, a lovely and lonely young war bride who becomes 15-year-old Hermie’s first adolescent crush). More than 35 years have passed since this movie debuted, but guys who can’t be trusted to remember to pick up milk on their way home can still easily recall the way the sunlight played on Miss O’Neill’s bare shoulders and how she looked in her white halter dress.

The musical attempts to recapture this mingled feeling of nostalgia and nookie with mixed success. As Dorothy, Nancy Snow possesses the gleaming blond, quintessentially American beauty that puts you in mind of Cybill Shepherd in “The Last Picture Show.” Her lustrous voice just adds to the fairy princess effect, but then she’s saddled with banal, sing-songy numbers like “Little Did I Dream,” a duet with her dreamboat GI husband, Pete, that is a waste of actor Will Gartshore’s time and talent.

The trouble with the stage version of Dorothy is that she never descends from goddess stature to become a real woman. She remains a remote, removed object for Hermie (Ryan Nealy) to worship, which he seems to do from afar even when they are in the same room. Her transformation from unattainable pinup to impulsive seducer of a 15-year-old boy in the wake of her husband’s death overseas seems hasty and implausible, and portraying her fall from grace with the abrupt appearance of booze and cigarettes is a tawdry touch in an otherwise classy production.

Mr. Nealy’s Hermie, on the other hand, is engagingly human — an awkward and painfully self-conscious lad who tries to be suave but always manages to say the wrong thing or trip over his sneakered feet. For all the longing Hermie holds for Dorothy, their relationship seems like a faded sepia memory.

While Hermie grapples with his supposedly finer feelings for Dorothy, the late-blooming Benjie (David McLellan) is just plain terrified of girls, and panting pal Oscy (the excellent Michael Vitaly Sazonov) just wants to score. His frantic wooing of the curvaceous Miriam (Jennifer Timberlake) is one of the musical’s sweetly sex-crazed high points, as is the crowing number “Unfinished Business,” where Oscy becomes a 1940s version of Dr. Ruth and coaches his friends on the 10 steps to intercourse using an illustrated college textbook.

The sight of three budding studs in patterned shorty pajamas strikes the right mood of innocence and pimpled yearning, as does the scene where Hermie undergoes that teen rite of passage: entering the local store and having to ask for condoms. Another fine actor, Christopher Bloch, playing the stern adult shopkeeper, pulls this scene off with inspired leering lunacy but is less effective with the puzzling addition of Walter Winchell providing unnecessary period news briefs.

The musical gets fired up only when Hermie and his friends deal with raging hormones and their gawky attempts to become oceanfront Lotharios with girls their own age. It is mutual teenage lust, not love, that gives “Summer of ‘42” any sense of lingering heat.


WHAT: “Summer of ‘42,” adapted for the stage by Hunter Foster and David Kirshenbaum

WHERE: Round House Theatre Bethesda, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through June 24.

TICKETS: $25 to $55

PHONE: 240/644-1100

WEB SITE: www.roundhousetheatre.org


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