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New York Times, November 7, 1966
Theater: About a Lord, a Maid, a Servant and a Lady
MAN WITH A LOAD OF MISCHIEF, musical, based on the play by Ashley Dukes. Book
by Ben Tarver music by John Clifton; lyrics by Messrs. Clifton and Tarver;
staged by Tom Gruenewald; setting and lighting by Joan Larkey; costumes by
Volavkova; Choreography by Noel Schwartz; musical direction by Sande Campbell;
orchestrations by Mr. Clifton; Production stage manager, Richard Moss, Presented
by Donald H. Goldman. At the Jan Hus Playhouse, 351 East 74th Street.
Innkeeper Tom Noel
His wife Lesslie Nicol
Lord Raymond Thorne
Man Reid Shelton
Lady Virginia Vestoff
Maid Alice Cannon
By DAN SULLIVAN
"A MAN WITH A LOAD OF MISCHIEF" is a costume musical about a Lord who makes love to a Maid and a Servant who makes love to a Lady. It is based on a play by Ashley Dukes that lasted 16 performances here in 1925.
Armed with this information, and sensing disaster, this reviewer entered the Jan Hus Playhouse at 351 East 74th Street last night in a rather gloomy state of mind. But it just goes to show you. "A Man with a Load of Mischief" turns out to be a perfectly charming little musical.
Well nothing's perfect, of course. During the brief final act of this pseudo-frolic, there is at times the suspicion that the fun is starting to wear a little thin; that a ballad entitled "What's Become of My Little Rag Doll" is strictly an emergency measure, aimed at the avant-camp crowd, and that cast and authors are beginning to feel themselves above their story.
But again, it just goes to show. For "What's Become of My Little Rag Doll" falls, one is surprised to notice, lightly on the ear. And the windup scene is as straight-faced, action-laced and non-smirky as one could desire. In other words, the show rescues itself before it can get into any deep trouble, and one is inclined to like it even better for its spunk.
Act I is pretty perfect. Ben Tarver's book, with plenty of help, one assumes, from Dukes's original play, is a stylish pastiche of characters and situations from Goldsmith, Sheridan and any other 18th?century comic dramatist you want to bring up.
The Lord is a heartless fop, the Lady has not been virtuous, the Maid has her eye on the main chance, the Servant is the gentleman the gentleman isn't. They Insult each other in pseudo-Johnsonian ("Your wine, like your person, is the soul of mediocrity") and they make love by the book ("My friend! This cannot be!").
But the authors are having fun not just with the distant past. They are also kidding, just as affectionately, the musical comedy traditions of the not-so-distant past. Although John Clifton's music is fresh and quirky enough to be called contemporary, his numbers come just as they would have in the old days before the American musical acquired a conscience: there are marches and quick-steps and waltzes, not always much related to the plot, but you can hum almost all of them.
"Masquerade," the first act finale, for instance, is simple enough
enough to , become a standard even if Barbra Streisand doesn't make a record of
(which she is hereby requested to do).
"Masquerade" is sung in the show by Reid Shelton, who plays the Servant. He is interesting to watch even when he is doing nothing. (He pays attention to the other actors so faithfully that you find yourself paying attention to him.) The part mixes outward reserves and inner power, and Mr. Shelton has both. He also has a grand baritone voice; his "Masquerade" number has much of the pow! that Carol Channing's "Hello, Dolly!" number had.
Virginia Vestoff, as the Lady, shows enough elegance and bearing to suggest that she will show more (particularly in diction) as time goes on. Raymond Thorne (the Lord) and Alice Cannon (the Maid) are just fine, as are Tom Noel and Lesslie Nicol, who run the Inn where all the mischief happens.
Visually, the show is quite lovely, thanks to Joan Larkey's gabled, latticed Inn and Volavkova's spiffy costumes. Mr. Clifton's orchestrations-for the fresh combination Of cello, clarinet, flute and piano -are equally bright. Tom Gruenewald's direction is clean and intelligent.
They handed out the score for the show after the premiere, which indicates some confidence in a long run. I think they're right.