Theater Review: Highly Enjoyable Mindless Fluff At Goodspeed, Just Like Musicals Used To Be

EAST HADDAM — The original Broadway production of Good News! ran for 557 performances back in the Gatsby era, starting in 1927, and closing months before the stock market bad news that initiated the Great Depression. In short, it was  the kind of mindless fluff that entertained the punters and employed the starlets who flocked to those outrageous parties at Gatsby’s West Egg mansion.

Set on the rah rah campus of Tait University, the plot wrestles with some weighty issues: Will star quarterback Tom Marlowe be kept out of the season’s final, and most important, game, because he is failing astronomy?

Will the university’s first female astronomy professor, Charlotte Kenyon,  ever revive her blighted romance with football coach Bill Johnson,  after he ditched her back in the day when they were both Tait students themselves?

Will Tom fall in with the plans of Pi Beta Phi Sorority president Pat Bingham and propose to her (after he wins the big game) or will he have his eyes opened and his mind expanded by Pat’s poor relation cousin, Connie Lane, who has been hired to tutor him in astronomy?

And what will Beef Saunders, the huge linebacker with the room temperature IQ, do when he realizes that his girl, Babe O’Day, has left him for Bobby Randall, a third string bench warmer?

Do you know how these will be resolved? Probably. Do you want to see this show? Definitely — if you’re up for some sparkling, dynamic,  highly energetic performances by a cast of young dancers with  appealing voices and a droll sense of timing.

What really perks it up is the addition of several songs by Ray Henderson, B.G. DeSylva and Lew Brown, which were not part of their original show, but which are still familiar today: “The Best Things in Life are Free,” “You’re the Cream in My Coffee,” “Button Up Your Overcoat” and “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries.”

David Krane’s new dance arrangements are so exciting that it is almost impossible to remain in your seat as you watch the ensemble of coeds and  collegians thrashing about the stage. The second act re-creation of  a football game is absolutely delightful. 

Under Vince Pesce’s direction, the antics of Coach Johnson and his assistant, Pooch,  are hilarious. Mark Zimmerman and Max Perlman handle those roles deftly, as does Beth Glover as the lady professor who thought she had given up on love.

Barry Shafrin and Tessa Faye are well matched as bench warmer Bobby and bad girl Babe, while Myles J. McHale is sweet as the lugubrious lummox, Beef.

Ross Lekites has a great voice for the role of golden boy Tom, who must choose between Reese Witherspoon-like Lindsay O’Neil as golden girl Pat, and Chelsea Morgan Stock as the bespectacled but spunky Connie.

In the end it was the ensemble that I enjoyed the most, because they carried it all off with such joyous aplomb.  We saw the show on the day that high school seniors were obliged to send in their money and commit to the college of their choice.  The show made it look like college is so much fun that some  worried parents might have second thoughts.

Anyhow, what this version of Good News! reinforces is Goodspeed’s reputation for putting  enough money and backing into their  productions to let audiences enjoy musicals the way they used to be: the sets, the orchestra, the costumes, and the large enough cast made the whole experience highly enjoyable.

Performances continue in this, Goodspeed’s 50th anniversary season opener, until June 22.

Call Goodspeed’s box office, 860-873-8668, or visit Goodspeed.org for details on curtain, tickets, and special performances and offers.

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