You wouldn't think a musical comedy first performed in 1938 could feel more modern at times than shows that hit Broadway last year. But that is the peculiar power of Bryce Pinkham and William Jones's new adaptation of Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson's "Knickerbocker Holiday" now running at Falmouth's Highfield Theatre.
With its roots in Washington Irving's "Father Knickerbocker's Stories" set in Old Dutch New Amsterdam, this reinvented musical from the College Light Opera Company transcends its post-Depression-era social commentary and goes for 2019 political satire. This makes it an interesting hybrid of sickly sweet and sharply sour, and that means its often pointed (but largely goofball) humor will not be to everyone's taste.
Those expecting a safe throwback piece of melodic stagecraft will get that, but I believe the audience also gets something that runs counter to that secure notion, though not always consistently or wholly successfully.
Political assessments aside, this new "Knickerbocker Holiday" is a splendid vehicle for CLOC's talented cast and crew. It does not rise to the dizzying heights of CLOC's recent "Mary Poppins," I will admit, but the show has its own charms.
These charms include Mr. Pinkham's exemplary stage direction and Todd Florin's sprightly musical direction. In support of their combined vision is an excellent 12-piece band; Manley Gavich's fun-to-watch choreography; and Charles Jodoin's, Oscar Escobedo's and Angela Mantel's spectacular technical direction, scenic design and lighting. Especially brilliant are the costumes from designer Sophia Baramidze, which add much to the show's beauty and humor.
Putting the principal performances aside for a moment, I will give props to the great singing and dancing chops of the show's ensemble—Michael Cagnetta, Adam Cantor, Amber Kiara, Anastasia Lallos, Mitchell McVeigh, Hunter Mitchell, Katherine Parrish and Andrey Vdovenko—who shine brightly throughout the show, particularly Act One's "There's Nowhere to Go But Up" and Act Two's "Romance and Musketeer," "Dirge for a Soldier," "Ve Vouldn't Gonto Do It" and "To War!"
Impressive performers of named characters who also double in the ensemble include Jordan Harris as Anthony Corlear, Rachel Querreveld as Tessa, Olivia Crouch as Nell, Paula Berry as Marie and Alisha Sheth as Josephine.
Supercharging the slapstick and silly humor are Ian C. Weber as Tenpin, Jack Humphrey as the jailer/soldier Schermerhorn, Audra Weathers as Mrs. Schermerhorn and Eleni Hanson as Major Poffenburgh.
Providing genuine hilarity are the comical council members, whose rotund costumes really need to be seen: Spencer Gonzalez as Vanderbilt, Laura Purvis as De Peyster, Jessica Kirshner as Van Cortland Jr., Will Paddock as Van Rensselaer, Quentin Fettig as De Vries and Alaina Mueller as Roosevelt.
Ms. Mueller, with her phenomenal vocal skills and comedic timing that served her equally well recently in the role of Mary Poppins, steals every scene she is in.
Amazing numbers with the council include Act One's "It's a Law" and Act Two's "Our Ancient Liberties."
Jeffrey Laughrun plays the show's hero, Brom Broeck, with vigor and a kind of Dudley Do-Right earnestness. His 1930s radio-star voice works well for his speaking scenes but his singing voice, while just right for the character, does not always have the strength to project above characters with more powerful voices, so some of his best lines sound garbled or go unheard.
Mr. Laughrun's duets with his love interest, Tina Tienhoven—performed with pluck and operatic panache by Laura Lydia Paruzynski—are some of the show's most enjoyable, including "It Never Was You," "Young People Think About Love," "Will You Remember Me?" and "We Are Cut in Twain."
The three most memorable performances, from both an acting and a musical standpoint, are Logan Hoy Tucker as Governor Peter Stuyvesant, Ryan Wolpert as Tienhoven and Carlyn Barenholtz as Washington Irving.
When Ms. Barenholtz sings "Clackety-Clack," "How Can You Tell an American?" (with Mr. Laughrun), "Ballad of the Robbers," and the reprise of "There's Nowhere to Go But Up," I for one could suspend disbelief and let the show's anachronistic melodrama sweep me away.
In "One Touch of Alchemy," "September Song" and "The Scars," Mr. Tucker, who wears a golden prosthetic leg, portrays perfectly the winsome would-be dictator.
"The One Indispensable Man," a hilarious and well-sung duet between Mr. Tucker and Mr. Wolpert, was, for me, the show's high point on opening night. I could watch Mr. Wolpert (who was also superb as Robertson Ay in "Mary Poppins") and his signature silliness for hours and hours.
"Knickerbocker Holiday" continues through Saturday, August 17, at Highfield Theatre. Showtimes are 7:30 PM. A matinee takes place Thursday, August 15, at 2 PM.