"All About Us"
Westport Country Playhouse, Westport
They have brought the big guns into play, in mounting the new musical “All About Us” at the Westport Country Playhouse. In an impressive line-up, the legendary Eartha Kitt and Tony winners Cady Huffman and Shuler Hensley appear in the cast. Music and lyrics are by the equally noted John Kander-Fred Ebb team, with book by Joseph Stein. All are in the hands of the respected director Gabriel Barre. Reasons indeed to attend “All About Us” with great anticipation.
All to little avail, it would seem. “All About Us,” based on Thornton Wilder’s ground-breaking 1942 play, “The Skin of Our Teeth,” is a musical in the making. Or perhaps a musical that should never have been attempted. In any event, this over-two-hour intermission-less show has yet to find its voice, its coherence.
In contrast, Wilder’s original play worked very well, earning him one of his two Pulitzer Prizes. It was a provocative commentary on the human condition, on man’s everlasting struggle through the ages, as played out by the Antrobus family—Father and Mother (originally Adam and Eve, it is suggested), and their children Henry and Gladys.
Skipping freely through time, the play mixes Biblical references with anthropology, history, current events. Noah’s flood follows the Ice Age. The woolly mammoths take up residence in a suburban New Jersey town. But Wilder’s message, ultimately, is one of hope. The human race, in the face of all catastrophes, will triumph “by the skin of our teeth.”
Granted that to turn this offbeat drama/comedy into a musical is a daunting challenge. A musical cries out for clarity, for a strong through line, for emotional clout that builds in an arc—and especially memorable songs. As it turns out, “All About Us” stumbles about the stage (with characters in varying states of hysteria) for almost an hour before it connects. At that point the clear, appealing young voice of Samantha Futerman, as Gladys, offers up a moving “When Poppa Comes Home.”
Once it gets going, “All About Us” has other affecting moments, some of which are eerily relevant. The flood scenes bring to mind the recent rainfall this area has experienced, and Carlo Alban, as Henry, plays a character who reminds one of the recent Virginia Tech murderer. The war scenes, too, evoke today’s headlines.
Mostly missing is the dazzling music. Despite the earnest efforts of a talented cast, this is no “Cabaret” or “Chicago”(the earlier Kander-Ebb triumphs).Though there are several catchy songs, it is not top-notch Kander/Ebb work. Best among them is the above-mentioned “Poppa” and “Lullabye.” Cady Huffman gets her moment in the sun, when, as a beauty pageant contestant, she sings “Save the Human Race.” Shuler Hensley, as George Antrobus, is in fine voice, and Carlo Alban makes a scary Cain (or Henry). Eartha Kitt could not be expected to have the voice she once had, but the audience responds enthusiastically, paying tribute to a living legend. It is enough that she appears.
But the best musical number, half way through the show, may well summarize the whole experience. Four performers appear before the curtain and sing “Discussion,” as they puzzle about the play and constantly repeat the phrase, “I Don’t Get It.”
Neither did we.
-- Irene Backalenick
Apr. 20, 2007