Brody Karn stars in "The Summer Of '42" at the Spirit of Broadway Theater in Norwich. (Brett Bernardini photo)
by Roger Zotti for Connecticut Concerts
Starring a group of hugely talented actors, The Summer of ’42 is a nostalgic, coming-of-age piece about a teenager, Hermie, who one summer falls in love with a war bride. David Kirsenbaum wrote the words and music and Hunter Foster penned the book based on the hit film from 1971. I asked my friend Zog for his impression of the production and he raised his left thumb. Then he said, grinning: “In fact, two thumbs up” and raised his right thumb. “The play never falters and the acting and music are just terrific—and you’re really brought back to the forties. And what a great orchestra! If I have a criticism, it’s this: For the July 29 performance at the Spirit of Broadway Theater in Norwich, the musicians didn’t come on stage for a richly deserved bow.
“And I bet right now, old buddy, you want some specifics. Well, my favorite number—and I had many—was ‘Like They Used To.’ That’s when Hermie and Dorothy are alone in her cottage. Hermie is bumbling, awkward, trying to impress her, and very self-conscious. They begin talking about movies and Hermie says he’d like to go to Hollywood to be in motion pictures: ‘They taught Cagney how to dance. So they might just give me a chance.’ Great line!”
I told Zog I thought the most hilarious number was “The Movies.”
“It was,” he replied. “There they are watching a film at the local movie theater and Hermie is trying to cop a feel off his date Miriam, right? Poor guy, he thinks he’s successful. But the audience, Miriam, and his best pal Oscy know differently. Afterward, a nearly hysterical Oscy tells him it was Miriam’s elbow he was fondling.
Emily Rice in "The Summer of '42." (Brett Bernardini photo)
Jeremy Michael Lagunas convincingly captures Oscy’s immaturity and horniness. But near the end of the work he surprises us with a mature remark. Recognizing Hermie’s sadness and befuddlement over Dorothy, he says, “Sometimes life is just one big pain in the ass.”
We’ve all come across Erik Jonathan Shuler’s Benjie—the goofy kid, bright, afraid of girls, a pest, and wearing thick glasses held together by white tape. Shuler’s performance is on the money. Emily Rice’s Dorothy’s key scene is when she learns her soldier husband has died overseas. She underplays her devastation just right.
“And that wasn’t an easy scene to perform,” Zog, who had been listening quietly, added. “As you said, she didn’t overdo it—which made it heart-wrenching and believable.”
Then there’s the key character, Brody Karn’s Hermie, who grows into maturity as the work progresses. A talented singer and dramatic actor, Karn also possesses great comedic physicality. With great ease and skill his stumbling, occasional goofiness, and awkwardness is, indeed, integral to his character.
“I agree,” Zog said. “And don’t forget the solid performances of Randy Ronco as both Walter Winchell and pharmacist Mr. Sanders, and Michael Enright as Pete. And those teenage girls—Sidney Smith’s Miriam, Morgan Grambo’s Aggie, and Debra Slezak’s Gloria—whose singing and dancing was effortless and entertaining. I closed my eyes a few times and was positive I was listening to the Andrews Sisters.”
I spoke with Griswold’s Debra Slezak, for whom the best thing about performing in The Summer of ’42 “is getting to share the stage with such an amazing cast and, of course, performing in this beautiful show five times a week.”
A veteran SBT performer, Debra offered this advice to upcoming actors: “Never give up. Things may seem very stressful, but you can push through them and result is always amazing.” As for the best advice she’s ever received about performing, it was, of course, “never give up. Also the stage is your home. So own it and give the best performance you can every night.”
Debra wants everyone to know that “every cast member has put one hundred per cent into the show. For me, it’s been a great and memorable experience.”
For more information about Spirit of Broadway Theater productions, call 860-886-2378, or visit them online.