|Plain and Fancy
York Theatre Company - October 2006
Article by John Kenrick
Have you ever dug through a closet or drawer and suddenly found a
really great piece of clothing you had completely forgotten about? You
wonder why you haven't worn it more often, and promptly restore it to
regular use, responding to the inevitable compliments by saying,
"What, this old thing?" -- as you silently make a note to wear
it far more often in the future.
Well, such is the case with Plain and Fancy, a 1955 hit which
ran for 461 profitable performances on Broadway and became a staple in
the amateur theatre repertory. Unfortunately, there was no big screen
version, and the show gradually fell into disuse. The York Theatre's
Musicals in Mufti Concert Series has uncovered a number of needlessly
forgotten gems over the last twelve years, presenting more titles than
any other theatrical concert series in the world. Their 2006 staging of Plain
and Fancy provides proof positive that this show is as charming and
relevant as ever, and leaves one wondering how such a delightful
property ever slipped out of the spotlight.
Dan King has inherited a Pennsylvania farm, and travels with longtime
friend Ruth Winters to look over the property and consider a neighboring
Amish farmer's offer to buy the property. Sophisticated or
"fancy" New Yorkers, Dan and Ruth are alien creatures among
the "plain" Amish, who have ignored cultural change and clung
to their own ways for more than two centuries. But the Amish have their
full share of romantic intrigues, what with one innocent farm girl
falling for the worldly Dan, while another is forced to marry the boring
brother of the young man she really loves. Of course, all ends up
happily -- this is a 1950s musical comedy after all! But along the way,
the clash of cultures and mindsets has much to teach, and offers many
opportunities for satisfying entertainment.
Director David Glenn Armstrong keeps the action clear throughout, and John
Bell provides solid support at the solo piano, but in an initimate
concert staging, the material must speak for its itself -- and oh my,
how eloquent this material is. Some have
suggested that Plain and Fancy is somewhere between Fiddler on
the Roof and Oklahoma, but the spirit here is far too unique
to classify so easily. The libretto by Will Glickman and Joseph
Stein is packed with interesting characters and comic possibilities.
With music by Albert Hague and lyrics by Arnold Horwitt,
the score is vintage Broadway -- not a wasted note or word, and every
number is a winner.
Anyone who has ever gotten lost on a
country road will identify with the confusing directions offered to the
bewildered New Yorkers by locals in "You Can't Miss It." The
show's hit ballad "Young and Foolish" is still a winner, as
are the sweet "It Wonders Me" and the soaring "This is
All Very New to Me." Ruth gets the acerbic "Helluva Way to Run
a Love Affair," and the Amish farmers get the gorgeous
"Plain We Live." There is a kickin' Act Two opener for the
ensemble, "How Do You Raise a Barn," which was, by necessity,
simplified for the Mufti concert staging, but still very effective. Left
out entirely was a ballet sequence set at a local carnival -- the show
still works quite smoothly without it, but it would doubtless add a lot
of color to fully staged productions.
The York put this fine material in the hands of a stellar cast.
Standouts include the sensational Cady Huffman (the original Ulla
in The Producers), who makes every line (verbal and physical!)
count as Ruth, who longs for the comforts of the modern world. Jordan
Leeds is excellent as the often bemused Dan, and the magical Nancy
Anderson damn near steals the show as Hilda, the Amish girl who
develops a crush on him. I have cheered Ms. Anderson's performances
everywhere from Broadway to London to Carnegie Hall -- she is truly one
of the theatrical treasures of our time. Erik Devine makes the
gruff Papa Yoder hard to hate, and his glorious voice bass baritone
makes "Plain We Live" a highlight. Dan Sharkey is
hilarious as the dim-witted farmer Ezra, and Jack Noseworthy is
endearing as his hot tempered but loving brother. The surprise find of
this cast is Sara DeLaney, whose enchanting performance as the
romantically entangled Katie simply wowed the York's opening night
audience. Here's hoping we see and hear far, far more of her on New York
stages in the future.
And then there's that living comic treasure, Charlotte Rae.
Bringing a lifetime of stage and television experience to her
performance as matriarch Emma Yoder, she gives a master class in how one
turns giggles into belly laughs. This little lady is still a powerhouse,
and it is one of the joys of a theatre-going lifetime to see her in
action again. You GO, girl!
If your amateur group is looking for a quality, family-friendly show
that has not been done to death, Plan and Fancy is ready and
waiting to delight audiences. It has been some forty years since it was
regularly performed, and that is four decades too many. Dig this one out
of the drawer and try it on!
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