While it may be true that no musical is too big for Broadway, Spider Man being a case in point, it’s equally true that some musicals are simply too small, too intimate, too “chamber” to make it on the Great White Way, one more reason to celebrate Musical Theatre Guild for bringing these delicate gems back to life, if only for an evening or afternoon of musical theater bliss.

Such is the case with 2008’s A Catered Affair, which despite its pedigree (music and lyrics by John Bucchino and book by Harvey Fierstein, based on a screenplay by Gore Vidal and a teleplay Paddy Chayefsky) and a cast which included Tom Wopat, Faith Prinze, and Fierstein, closed on Broadway after a mere 143 performances and previews.


Still, as its twelve Drama Desk Award nominations and its Drama League Award win for Distinguished Production of a Musical suggest, and as last night’s MTG concert staged reading made abundantly clear, this is one musical deserving of a better fate than the one Broadway gave it.

A CATERED AFFAIR 3 Fierstein’s book introduces circa 1953 us to middle-aged Brooklyn cab driver Tom Hurley (David Holmes), who has just learned that he and fellow cabbie Sam (John Sloman) can at last become equal partners, each of them owning 50% of the cab they’ve been driving for twenty years simply by buying about-to-retire Pasternak’s one-third share of the business.

Simultaneously, Tom’s daughter Jane (Melissa Fahn) and her boyfriend Ralph (Jeffrey Christopher Todd) have decided to formalize their own partnership in a quickie city hall ceremony, the better to take advantage of an offer to drive a friend’s car out to California, all expenses paid, have a West Coast honeymoon, and get back to New York in time for Ralph’s teaching job to start back up.

There’s only one catch. Once their respective parents have learned of their decision, there’s no way the adults will let their kids get married in anything less than a grand church ceremony, followed by a gala reception for family and friends, the titular “Catered Affair.”

A CATERED AFFAIR 1 Tom’s wife Aggie (Marsha Kramer) sees her daughter’s wedding as a chance to make up to Janie for having always favored their son Terrance, a recently fallen hero/victim of America’s Korean War. Yes, Janie’s marriage to Ralph may someday end up as loveless as Aggie’s to Tom appears to have been, but at least she’ll have that one magical moment to look back on in the future. As for Ralph’s parents, the hoity-toity Hallorans (Sloman and Tracy Lore) can hardly see their son-and-heir married in a civil ceremony. After all, what will their hundred and eighty-six friends and relatives think if they don’t get their very own embossed wedding invitations in the mail?

Complicating matters even further is Janie’s “confirmed bachelor” Uncle Winston (Roy Leake, Jr.), who despite having lived all of Tom and Aggie’s married life under the same roof with them, doesn’t qualify as “immediate family” and will therefore not be invited to join them at City Hall, since how will the rest of Janie’s uncles and aunts feel if only Uncle Win is at the ceremony?

A CATERED AFFAIR 4 With a storyline as slight as this, a cast of ten mostly over-fifty actors, and a ninety-minute running time, how could A Catered Affair possibly have made it on Broadway opposite In The Heights, Legally Blonde, and Mary Poppins, to name just three concurrently-running hits?

Still, with a score as gorgeously intricate (and just plain gorgeous) as the one Bucchino has written—kissing cousins to Adam Guettel’s for The Light In The Piaza—and characters whose intersecting stories can’t help touching the hearts of all but the most heartless, A Catered Affair is more than deserving of its brief post-Broadway afterlife with Musical Theatre Guild.

The last time we saw Kramer, Holmes, and Leake on stage together was in 2010’s entirely forgettable 70, Girls, 70, all the more reason to celebrate a musical that does justice to the talents of three of the brightest and most venerable jewels in the MTG crown, each of them doing unforgettable work under Alan Bailey’s supremely nuanced direction.

Watch the pain in Kramer’s eyes as she realizes the short end of the bargain Aggie has given “Our Only Daughter” or her face light up as the long-suffering housewife describes her “Vision” for Janey and Ralph’s “catered affair” and you realize you’re in the presence of a master performer given the proverbial “role of a lifetime” and nailing its every facet.

As Tom, a man who loves his daughter but knows that an expensive wedding will mean extinguishing any hope of finally becoming his own boss, Holmes is a powerhouse of anger and resentment and, in the gut-wrenching “I Stayed,” unexpected marital devotion and even love.

And then there’s Leake in a part Fierstein wrote for himself, not surprisingly the musical’s most scene-stealing role, making “bent” Uncle Win entirely his scene-stealing own, and never more so than in a tour-de-force “Immediate Family,” which has Leake singing out a repressed gay man’s rage even as he repeatedly mangles Mrs. Halloran’s name for laughs, a performance that would have the entire audience erupting in cheers were it not cut short by another character’s entrance (an interruption both inexplicable and indefensible, whoever the culprit).

A CATERED AFFAIR 2 Supporting performances are all-around splendid, beginning with Fahn’s exquisite, utterly authentic Janie, proof positive that this MTG treasure can play it straight, and every bit as winningly as she does the bubble-headed bimbos she’s best known for. And as Todd’s recent romantic lead in Call Me Madam made abundantly clear, no leading lady could ask for a handsomer or more charming romantic leading man. The duo get A Catered Affair’s most gorgeous song, “Don’t Ever Stop Saying I Love You,” a heavenly joining of voices if there ever was one.

The inimitable Helen Geller and the one-and-only Carol Kline join the always sensational Lore as a trio of gossiping neighborhood biddies, Geller and Kline doubling terrifically as women who make weddings their business. Guest artist Sloman is every bit the equal of his MTG member costars as two very different characters.

Completing the cast in a pair of non-singing roles is the luminous Melissa Lyons Caldretti as an army sergeant who delivers an American flag and government check with equal parts dignity and heart, and as a friend of Janie’s whose recent marriage has brought her the opposite of wedded bliss.

An entirely justified Tony-nomination went to orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, and if MTG’s four-piece orchestra substitutes synthesized violins for the real thing (impeccably transposed by musical director Brent Crayon), the beauty of Tunick’s orchestrations shines through as performed by Crayon and Cassie Nickols on keyboards, Adrienne Geffen on woodwinds, and Dustin McKinney on trumpet.

AJS Costumes’ A. Jeffrey Schoenberg gives each character not only just the right 1950s look but one that matches age, income, and social position. A Catered Affair also features some of the most beautiful lighting choices I’ve seen in an MTG production, particularly in “Vision.” Actors mime most props, allowing audience imagination to do the rest.

Jessica Olson is assistant costume designer. Tara Sitser is production stage manager, Kirsten D’Agostaro Shook assistant stage manager, and Art Brickman production manager.

Jill Marie Burke is production coordinator.

A Catered Affair cries out for a 99-seat production, one that would best suit its intimacy and give audiences the chance to see it fully-staged. In the meantime, there’s MTG stripped-down big-stage reading to celebrate—with only one remaining performance in Thousand Oaks this coming Sunday. This is one affair, catered or otherwise, you won’t want to miss.

–Steven Stanley
April 15, 2013
Photos: Stan Chandler



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