nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
February 24, 2010
Noel Coward's witty musical Sail Away is a lighthearted romp that takes place on a cruise ship. It is produced by Musicals Tonight! as a concert reading. As always, producer Mel Miller introduces the show by telling us what was going on in the world at the time of the premiere of the show, which in this case was 1961.
I've always been torn about Coward. He's a wit, and I've got a soft spot for wits, and yet I oftentimes fine him cold, where I never really cared about any of his characters, enjoyable as his lines might be. And perhaps this is why he works well in a musical; his over-the-top quality and lack of trying to be real or earnest suits the silly and fun tone of a romp aboard a pleasure cruise. Two hours and 20 minutes, including intermission, is a bit long for what this is, yet the whole thing is certainly fun.
Sail Away involves various folks on a cruise, with one budding romance and one thwarted romance. The main storyline is that of Mimi (Beth Glover), the vibrant social director, who is being wooed by Johnny (Scott Guthrie). The thing is, there's about a ten year difference in their ages, with Johnny being younger, and as much as Mimi likes the pleasantly charming fellow, she has to resist. Meanwhile, a romance brews between eager young Barnaby (Erik Keiser) and ingenue Nancy (Amber Ward), who is on board as an assistant to her aunt, a famous writer.
Mimi introduces herself to the audience, singing, "To be a professional pepper upper / Isn't anyone's cup of tea / But a wit and a smile...beguile / The tourists rely on me." Glover's performance is spirited and displays a degree of loneliness in the otherwise cheerful Mimi. Through body language alone, she communicates Mimi's desperation for Johnny's affection, leaning toward him, practically kissing him. She never stops flirting with him, even while telling him she can't be with him. And in terms of Glover's line delivery, she knows just when to drop into the lower ranges of her voice to give a comedic moment the right zing.
Coward is as adept at writing tender lyrics as he is at writing clever ones. Johnny brings us into the magic of travel when he sings "Sail Away":
When the storm clouds are riding through a winter sky
Sail away, sail away
When you feel your song is orchestrated wrong,
Why should you prolong your stay
When the wind and the weather blow your dreams sky high,
Sail away, sail away
And Coward communicates Nancy's romantic yearning in the lines "Where shall I find him / Where will he be / Where shall I find him / The one for me."
Dialogue is of course sharp: "Never read your Wordsworth? What a little ignoramus we are!" And the writer Eleanor's assessment of Johnny's mother, Mrs. Van Mier: "Make a note, Nancy, Mrs. Van Mier, celebrity snob, literary pretensions, probably will end up a drunkard." Followed by her assessment of Mimi: "Synthetic vivacity, no man in her life, probably will end up a drunkard." And a personal favorite, "Has it ever occurred to you, Mrs. Van Mier, that every person on this ship is either escaping or pursuing?"
There is an effective and subtle sadness in Mimi's resisting her young suitor. One gets the sense that Mimi gets a kick out of her job, or at least tolerates it for its lucrative rewards, but it's not enough to make up for lack of romance. When she is told by Mrs. Van Mier, "I don't envy you your job," Mimi replies, "It has its advantages. I get to see the world, and get paid." She then explains that she used to be a performer and is told, "Oh, I had no idea you were an actress." She then says, "Neither did anyone else." In a sense, Mimi is every career woman (or man) who has put so much energy into their career and forgotten about romance, so while this is a humorous play, one can't help but feel a little tinge for Mimi, and hope she fares better the next time.