By Marilyn Lester . . .
In a benefit for TADA! Youth Theater, the charmingly spooky musical, Mrs. McThing (Jack Urbont, composer and Michael Colby, book/lyrics), played two performances on Halloween, and it was spooktacular. Witches hats off to all concerned who assembled a superb cast to unleash this delightful work on its perfect day. Like the stage productions of A Christmas Carol or White Christmas, or the showing of films like Easter Parade, the musical Mrs. McThing deserves to be an annual Halloween event.
Mrs. McThing has a sturdy provenance. It premiered at Goodspeed Opera House in 1984, adapted by Urbont and Colby from the play of the same name by Mary Chase (author of Harvey). The play had a healthy run on Broadway in 1952, with no less than Helen Hayes in a starring role. Like its source material (by all accounts), the musical version is whimsical, clever spooky fun. Musical numbers, just short of two dozen, are tuneful and perfectly attuned to the spirit of the proceedings. Colby’s adaptation and lyrics (inspired by that master, E.Y. Harburg) were witty, wise and comic all at the same time. One highpoint was “Golden Day,” in which a trio of mobsters sing and cavort as if out of the wonderful pages of another set of masters, Gilbert and Sullivan. At the piano was musical director, Michael Lavine, a one-man orchestra who added clever “sound effects” at appropriate moments.
Mrs. McThing was presented at TADA Youth Theater as an advanced staged reading, with excellent production values (including projections and lighting effects). A starry cast of top-notch performers, smartly directed by Karen L. Carpenter, gave focused performances of absolute authenticity. What’s more, it was apparent they were all having a good time, making the show a fine Halloween treat for all of us fortunates in the audience.
The story is set in the late 1930s, and revolves around Mrs. Howard V. Larue III (Donna English)—the richest widow in town—who wants her 11-year-old son Howay (Parker S. Dzuba) to be like Lord Fauntleroy. Howay has other ideas and has escaped to the Shantyland Pool Hall Lunchroom to join the mob, led by Poison Eddie Schellenbach (Craig Bierko). Central to the mayhem that ensues is Mimi (Emily Isabel), the lonely, misunderstood daughter of the witch, Mrs. McThing (Leah Hocking), who longs to be “a normal American girl.” Events that are sparked by this desire include an unexpected romance, a Witches’ Sabbath of goblins and ghoulies, an antic heist and a showdown with Mrs. McThing.
A key to fully enjoying Mrs. McThing is to embrace the screwball comedy ethos of it. The characters are stock, but oh, so much fun. The bumbling mobsters, reminiscent of Guys and Dolls, play well against the haughty Mrs. Larue and those who like her who live “on the right side of the tracks.” Is this a paradigm that’s old school? Perhaps, but old school is cool and a relief from the modern tilt toward blood and gore in Halloween celebrating. The Halloween and broader supernatural tilt of Mrs. McThing is akin to the more eerie world of The Addams Family, but all in good fun and so very welcome.
What’s more, embedded in the dialog and lyrics of Mrs. McThing is a lot of social significance—timeless wisdom that transcends any genre of artistic presentation. At its root, Mrs. La Rue and Mrs. McThing are mothers who want what’s best for their children. When the musical journey ends, both have come to new realizations of what this desire truly means. Various motivations, needs and aspirations are accordingly revealed throughout. Of course, there’s a happy ending, and this is as it should be. As Mrs. McThing wraps, we’ve had a treat basket full of good, sweet fun, sprinkled with excellent advice to take with us into the “real world.”
Others who made Mrs. McThing the joyous success it proved to be were Trisha Jeffrey as Narrator/Carrie, Bart Shatto as Nelson, Michael J. Farina as Stinker, Benjamin Eakeley as Virgil and Shabazz Green as Chef (Ellsworth). Beth Siegling and Zack Krajnyak anchored roles as servants and goblins.
Photos: Michael Lee Stever