Back Home: The War Brides Musical
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
September 25, 2007
Back Home: The War Brides Musical is a sweet and charming new tuner by Ron Sproat, Christopher Berg, and Frank Evans that looks at the challenges faced by British women who marry American G.I.'s during World War II. If that doesn't sound like typical musical comedy fare, believe me when I tell you that the creators make it so. Even if there's no new ground broken here, and the authors sometimes repeat their points, it still doesn't stop them from fashioning a tuneful and enjoyable night at the theatre.
The story centers on two women: Mo, a Londoner whose family is skeptical of the American presence in Britain, and Ivy, a working-class girl from Leeds looking for a way out. Before long, the two have found their respective mates and gotten hitched. There's only one problem: once the war ends, their husbands get shipped back to the States, leaving Mo and Ivy behind to wait for word about when they can join them.
That's when Back Home gets going, chronicling the uncertainty of its heroines' predicament. When will Mo and Ivy be reunited with their beaux? How long will it take? And will things still be same once they're all back together again?
Sproat's book covers the day-to-day aspects of the women's journey, from initial family resistance (Mo) to co-worker scorn (Ivy). Once the dies are cast, however, and the waiting begins, the women start to wonder what their respective new lives in the U.S. will be like. Will West Virginia and Toledo, Ohio be as exotic and exciting as they think?
Berg and Evans's score is full of lovely songs that are played well by the two-person orchestra of pianist Mark Janas and Arthur Goode. The bouncy opening number, "Yanks," establishes things right away when the British men sing, "They're overpaid / They're oversexed / They're over here!" Ivy expresses her longing for the good life in the poignant "A Good Time Now and Then." And, in "Thrill of a Romance," Mo runs the gamut of emotions after thinking she spots her hubby in newsreel footage at the movies.
A talented cast, led by Kristen Maloney (Mo) and Danielle Erin Rhodes (Ivy), brings the story to life. Maloney lends an indelible optimism to her performance, while Rhodes supplies determined moxie. Both women have lovely voices that get shown off quite nicely here. Director Bick Goss guides the production with an overall sure hand, even though I question some of his decisions. The production is outfitted with full sets and costumes, and yet all props are mimed: huh? And Goss essentially bathes Rhodes in close to total darkness during a couple of her big solos while lighting everyone else onstage. Despite these discrepancies, Back Home is a genuinely moving show with a big heart.