What a rollicking, hilarious, fun way to begin a new season. Theatre By The Sea, the iconic summer theater nestled away near the sea in Matunuck, kicked off its 86th year with the world premiere of an enjoyable, entertaining, screwball musical written by the talented team of lyricist Jay Jeffries and composer John McMahon.
"Love and Other Fables," set on the Greek Island of Samos in 600 B.C., is funny, foolish, refreshing, full of excellent acting, memorable characters, clever songs, dazzling dance routines, and big numbers reminiscent of Broadway's Golden Age ("Legs.") It is the perfect escape from the news and politics du jour, a fabulous diversion and a laugh a minute. How fortunate are we to have such a top-notch summer theater right here in our midst. How wonderful it feels to laugh.
The show centers around that legendary fable-maker Aesop (Brian Sears, as the shy, insecure, lovelorn storyteller reminded me a bit of Tommy Smothers with his endearing nerdiness) as he pursues freedom and the hand of Lycaena (Landree Fleming is a force of nature, a gifted, spunky, force of nature). Aesop's owner, Hieronymous (David Groccia plays a number of roles) on a mission to sell poor Aesop, meets up with Catastrophe (Alison Nusbaum, with her bride of Frankenstein hairdo and shrill, demanding voice, is excellent) and her husband Xanthus (Brad Bellamy, uber low key and mild-mannered, is a perfect balance) in the marketplace. As they prepare to match Aesop and Lycaena, a mix-up occurs (the old mistaken identity silliness) and Lycaena mistakes the brawny "drop-dead gorgeous" Philocalus (Peter Saide plays this to the hilt and is marvelous.) The adventures continue with King Croesus (Blake Hammond is a ridiculously good Jackie Gleason/Three Stooges combo,) Delphinia (Aimee Doherty, with big red hair and a revealing green toga, is campy, excellent and fun) and a stage full of entertaining singers and dancers.
Theatergoer be warned: the show ran a bit long (more than two hours,) a friend — who is a season ticket holder — confessed she was underwhelmed and unimpressed, and I did hear some critical utterances and sighs.
As I mentioned earlier, it's a great escape. We were fortunate enough to be seated near a real laugher — a gentleman with a loud, booming, contagious laugh — which added to our enjoyment of the romantic romp.
Essentially, "Love and Other Fables," directed by Jay Binder, and accompanied by a terrific orchestra conducted by Ed Goldschneider, is a love story, and a charming one at that.
It's not often we get to enjoy a big, old-fashioned musical that we're told is Broadway-bound, so make sure you check out "Love and Other Fables," even if it never makes it outside Matunuck.