When was the last time you got to experience Jerry Herman’s Dear World? If you’re the most fortunate of Angelinos, it was probably way back in 2003 at Musical Theatre Guild’s one-performance-only concert staged reading of the 1969 Broadway gem, that was until last night when Cal State Northridge’s Valley Performing Arts Center opened its 2016-17 season with Dear World In Concert, starring an exquisite Tyne Daly as Countess Aurelia, the Madwoman of Chaillot.

Despite a Tony-winning lead performance by Angela Lansbury, still basking in the Broadway stardom bestowed upon her three years earlier as Herman’s Mame, Dear World closed after a mere 132 performances, its 45 previews (compared to Mame’s mere 5) suggesting behind-the-scenes troubles at making Herman’s and book writers Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s musical adaptation of Jean Giraudoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot work.

No wonder than that Dear World has remained virtually unseen in L.A. in the decades that followed its premature Broadway demise.

14519679_10154736400256833_6065093629107564197_n Rather than emulate MTG’s blocked, choreographed concert staged reading, director David Lee kept things simple at VPAC, Daly and her costars performing behind music stands at all times.

If this approach seemed at times rather like a radio broadcast (complemented by gestures and facial expressions), it served to emphasize Herman’s gift for (as Sondheim would put it) “a tune you go bum-bum-bum-di-dum” and the quirky pleasures of Lawrence and Lee’s often quite amusing book (revised by David Thompson in the early 2000s).

Unlike Dear World’s original Broadway cast of 38, a mere 12 characters sufficed to tell the tale of Madwoman Aurelia, who along with a couple of her fellow female loonies, make it their business to prevent a trio of scheming Presidents Of Industry from turning 1945 Paris into a city of oil derricks, black gold having been discovered under the café Countess Aurelia calls home.

With the world’s 1% becoming richer and richer with the dawning of each new day, Dear World’s witty satirization of corporate greed could hardly be more timely, nor could its characters be more deliciously oddball, particularly as performed by a cast of L.A. musical theater treasures.

Not only did Daly add subtle shadings to the Madwoman’s lunacy, her vocal chops were more than up to the task of giving fresh new life to Herman gems like “A Sensible Woman,” “I Don’t Want To Know,” “And I Was Beautiful,” “Kiss Her Now,” and of course the title song, the latter making it abundantly clear why Herman was, is, and always will be the Show Tune King.

Vicki Lewis and Bets Malone proved ditzy delights as Madwoman Constance and Madwoman Gabrielle, their “Tea Party” with the Countess one of the evening’s tastiest treats.

Zachary Ford’s Julian and Brandi Burkhardt’s Nina made for the charmingest of young lovers, Burkhardt earning deserved cheers for a stunningly vocalized “I’ve Never Said I Loved You.”

Steven Weber’s deliciously thick Pepé Le Pew accent helped make his Sewer Man the evening’s most unexpected comedic bonbon.

Damon Kirsch’s très amusant Prospector and E.E. Bell, Michael A. Shepperd, and James Leo Ryan’s buffoonish Presidents One, Two, and Three were comic gems as well, with Sean Smith’s Sergeant and narrator Jane Leeves completing the all-around splendid cast.

Audiences can thank musical director Darryl Archibald for adding orchestrations and vocal arrangements to a trio of songs not in the original Broadway production and for conducting the concert’s superb 24-piece orchestra, with CSUN’s a cappella group Acasola adding pitch-perfect vocal harmonies along the way.

Lighting designer Zack Leuchars and sound designer Nick Oldham deserve kudos as well.

Dear World was produced by Suzi Dietz. Jill Gold was production stage manager.

Los Angeles musical theater lovers can only hope a fully-staged Dear World in the not so distant future. In the meantime, those who filled VPAC last night can count themselves fortunate indeed.

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–Steven Stanley
September 30, 2016

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