The Happy Time
nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
March 10, 2007
This revival of John Kander and Fred Ebb's 1968 musical The Happy Time is a refreshing treat. It is unapologetically sweet and nostalgic. The story involves wayward son Jacques (played by the talented Timothy Warmen), a photographer who can't stay in one place (or with one woman) too long, who revisits his family and affects the lives of everyone, especially his innocent nephew Bibi (played by a perfectly plucky David Geinosky).
Jacques likes taking photos, and he likes to introduce worshipfully naïve nephews to the pleasures of life...including showgirls. This ultimately leads to Bibi getting involved with some not-so-innocent types of photography. While the plot does center around this somewhat racy element, overall the production has a warm-hearted almost-bring-your-family feel to it; somehow it goes beyond just "kid taking dirty pix" and "wandering uncle who breaks hearts wherever he goes," and instead conveys a story of exploration, growing up, and moving beyond the confines of our parents' expectations.
The play is narrated by Jacques, who invites us in, saying he wants to photograph us. He introduces us to his quarreling but loving family, and takes us to the showgirls' dressing room, and to Bibi's school, where we meet the girl he left behind, Laurie, played by Sarah Solie. Jacques clearly loves Laurie, but he just can't settle down.
The script works without too many zingers—however there are a few, most of them delivered by Granpère, played by Broadway veteran George S. Irving. I love watching Irving perform; he somehow manages to be both commanding and adorable. The richness of his singing is that it is fully acted, not about showing off vocal acrobatics, but communicating the lines. Irving originally played brother Phillipe in the 1968 version, and Larry Daggett, who plays brother Louis, played the role of Bibi decades ago, making this production even more of a family event.
This performance is done as a concert-style reading with actors holding books in their hands, but they barely ever refer to them, and while sets are minimal, the staging of cast members is as though they were completely off book.
The closing lines are so sweet as to be, dare I say, corny, but by this time the show has us so warmed up that we're willing to accept it.
This show is, if I may, a happy time.