|The Cast of Teddy and Alice. Photo: Paul Roth|
By Lauren Yarger
The possibility of a third-party candidate amidst disagreement within the Republican Party; questions about corporate donations to campaigns; charges of socialism and a president who golfs too much. Sound like topics from today's news? Think again.
The subjects are part of the 1987 musical Teddy & Alice about the early 20th-century presidency of Teddy Roosevelt (a bully John T Lynes). It features tunes by John Philip Sousa (Richard Kapp provides adaptations and original music), a book by Jerome Alden, lyrics by Hal Hackaday and even artistic consultation by Alan Jay Lerner. The timely references prove, as Director Semina De Laurentis promised in a pre-curtain welcome, that even though the musical depicts events from more than 100 years ago, "not much has changed."
The Alice in the title, is Roosevelt's daring, unconventional daughter (played by Sydney Turner) who smokes in public, doesn't blush at showing a little ankle and speaks her mind. Her opinions clearly interfere with those who want the president's ear for themselves like financier J.P. Morgan (Tim Cleary), William Howard Taft (Charles Stoop), Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge (Jonathan Ross) and Secretary of War Elihu Root (John Swanson), so they conspire to marry "Alice Interuptus" off. Charles DellaRocco, Jimmy Donohue, Michelle Gotay, Diane Magas, Deb O'Connell Mandy Thompson and Cassie Taylor round out the ensemble.
Alice is really just a chip off the old block, they discover, however, as her father bucks the norm himself, even doing the unthinkable -- at least in 1901 Washington -- by inviting black Booker T. Washington (Jerrial Young) to dine at the White House. The president also manipulates politics in Panama, where he wants to build a canal.
"Shouldn't you consult with Congress?" one of his advisers asks.
"No, I want to get things done," he barks.
That exchange got a lusty guffaw from the audience who didn't miss the modern-day relevence.
Alice eventually does fall in love with Sen. Nick Longworth (Matt Martin, who has a lovely tenor), many years her senior, but at first Roosevelt refuses to give his blessing and sends Alice off on a four-month good will tour of the Far East. The trouble, it seems, is that Roosevelt just can't let go of Alice. She reminds him too much of her late mother, Alice Lee. That reluctance doesn't go unnoticed by second wife, Edith (Krista Adams Santilli), who feels she can't compete with the memory of Roosevelt's beloved first wife, even though she has given him five more children (played here by Connor Barth, a 6th grader at WAMS, Carey Cannata, a rising freshman at the Taft School, Brandon Szep, Christina Vlamis and Philip Coffey).
There are some unfortunate glitches that mar the production: sound levels and mixes need adjustment (Martin also designs the sound); conversations by the four musicians housed off stage left can be heard during dialogue; light cues can be slow (Matt Guminski, design) and the ensemble and musicians aren't together in some of the larger productions numbers (Richard DeRosa, music direction).
There are some triumphs as well, however. Choreographer Janine Molinari does a nice job with both small and larger numbers particularly as the ensemble members seem to be at different levels of ability. A scene depicting the 1912 convention and the birth of the progressive party when Roosevelt tried to keep his successor, Taft, from winning the nomination for a second term, is very well staged with banners streaming (Erik D. Diaz, set design), flags waving and Sousa's "Stars and Stripes" blaring. (In a nice touch the theater has patriotically decorated ballot boxes in the lobby for audience members to cast votes to choose shows for next year's season.)
Alden's book is a bit cheesy and long at more than two and half hours, but it's wholesome fun and awfully contemporary.
Teddy & Alice wraps up the season at Seven Angels with an extension of dates: Friday, June 15 at 8 pm, Saturday, June 16 at 8 pm and Sunday June 17 at 2 pm. For information or to purchase tickets, call 203-757-4676 or visit http://sevenangelstheatre.org/. Seven Angels is located at 1 Plank Road, Waterbury.