Thursday, March 13, 2014

Case Study No. 1298: Addie Bemis

From the playwright of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes comes Happy Birthday, a sparkling and effervescent gem from 1946. Follow mild-mannered librarian Addie Bemis as she discovers love and vitality through an enchanted evening at a dodgy Newark cocktail lounge. With each round of drinks, the bar comes alive; the gin bottles glow, the cash register sings and the vibrant locals overflow with spirit. Addie learns to put down the books, pick up a glass and leave her cautious lifestyle behind.

http://www.tact Happy_Birthday.php
Tags: TACT off-broadway Anita Loos Karen Ziemba Mary Bacon The Actors Company Theatre Theatre NYC Happy Happy Birthday Theater Musical Broadway
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[a clip from the play is shown, then cut to a man ("Scott Alan Evans, Co-Artistic Executive Director") speaking directly to the camera]
SCOTT : We're thrilled to be celebrating our twentieth anniversary this year with another really wonderful forgotten gem of a play. It's called "Happy Birthday" by Anita Loos.
[another clip from the play is shown, then cut to a woman ("Mary Bacon, Addie") speaking directly to the camera]
MARY: Addie Bemis is a very innocent spinster, really. She's a librarian.
[another clip from the play is shown, then cut to another woman ("Karen Ziemba, Gail") speaking directly to the camera]
KAREN: It's a place where some very interesting cats gather to drink and be with extended family, and to fight and brawl, and to dance and laugh and do everything in between.
[another clip from the play is shown, then cut back to Mary speaking directly to the camera]
MARY: She has never gone on a date, but is desperately lonely ... desperately lonely. Desperately craving a way to, to connect with people.
[another clip from the play is shown, then cut back to Mary speaking directly to the camera]
MARY: She goes to this bar ...
[she laughs]
MARY: She starts to ... enjoy herself. And she opens up like a flower, and a lot of crazy stuff happens!
[another clip from the play is shown, then cut to another man ("Todd Gearhart, Paul") speaking directly to the camera]
TODD: Well, "Happy Birthday" was produced by Rodgers and Hammerstein, it was written for Helen Hayes, and she won a Tony Award for it. It was her chance to break out of the mold, she got to dance and sing and play around in this light, lovely, beautiful play.
[cut back to Scott speaking directly to the camera]
SCOTT: So we're really happy to be presenting "Happy Birthday" as a happy birthday celebration to, uh, TACT.
[another clip from the play is shown, then the scene fades to black]

The Actors Company Theatre
Happy Birthday by Anita Loos
Directed by Scott Alan Evans
The Beckett Theatre (410 West 42nd Street)
March 12-April 13, 2013
Tickets: Telecharge dot com or 212-239-6200
www dot tactnyc dot org



Happy Birthday is a play written by Anita Loos. It opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre on October 31, 1946 and closed on March 13, 1948, after 564 performances. It starred Helen Hayes, for whom it was written. The story involves Addie, a mousy librarian who becomes enamoured of a handsome bank clerk, and her attempts to win him over.

It was directed by Joshua Logan and featured a song written for the show, I Haven't Got a Worry in the World, with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and James Livingston. (Rodgers and Hammerstein also served as producers.)



Happy Birthday
By Anita Loos
Directed by Scott Alan Evans

March 12 through April 13, 2013

The Beckett Theatre
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street

Synopsis: The Jersey Mecca cocktail lounge in Newark, NJ really starts jumping one rainy evening when Addie Bemis, a soft-spoken librarian, decides its time to live it up. Originally produced by Rodgers & Hammerstein at the Broadhurst theatre in 1946.



Going on a public bender doesn't generally end well for single ladies, even in a friendly local watering hole, but Anita Loos wrote a light-hearted comedy on the subject that appears to steer a safe course for her inebriated heroine.

Loos ("Gentlemen Prefer Blondes") wrote "Happy Birthday" as a starring vehicle for her friend, Helen Hayes, and Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein produced it on Broadway in 1946, where it ran for nearly a year and a half. The then-new songwriting team also provided an original number, the lilting "I Haven't Got a Worry In The World."

A sprightly revival opened Thursday night off-Broadway, presented by TACT/The Actors Company Theatre at the Beckett Theatre. "Happy Birthday" is a comical, booze-fueled romp, set in a dicey bar in Newark, N.J., in 1946, at a time when many respectable women were still reluctant to go to bars on their own.

The TACT production is a fizzy retro confection, filled with laughs. It's directed by TACT co-artistic-director Scott Alan Evans with careful pacing and consideration for the intentional ironies and fantasy elements. Along with impressionistic frozen tableaus of the large cast, Evans artfully stages intimate moments, such as a charming scene in which two lovers hide underneath a small cocktail table. Eruptions of pink lighting during hallucinations enhance the dreamlike atmosphere on Brett J. Banakis' beautifully detailed set.

Librarian Addie Bemis, played initially with prim, ladylike dourness by Mary Bacon, lives a solitary life under the control of her abusive, alcoholic father. When teetotaler Addie gingerly enters The Jersey Mecca Cocktail Bar, fearful of mingling with "scum" yet determined to meet with her handsome banker, (Todd Gearhart), she barely wants to look around, let alone sit down anywhere.

But encouraged by circumstances, her first Pink Lady cocktail, and a mirthful pair of veteran barflies (imbued with mischief by Darrie Lawrence and Nora Chester), Addie is soon belting out popular tunes at the open mike, cracking wise and knocking back drinks like a sailor.

Bacon gives a solidly appealing performance, becoming increasingly vivacious and warm as Addie deems everyone in the bar to be her new friends, and determines, with intoxicated zeal, to make a play for the man of her dreams. Gearhart is charismatic as gentlemanly bank clerk Paul Bishop, whom Addie secretly adores. Inconveniently, Paul is engaged to shallow, manipulative but lovely Maude (Victoria Mack, archly petulant), who secretly has several irons in the fire.

The entire supporting cast is period-perfect in their roles, including Karen Ziemba as good-hearted bar owner Gail, and James Prendergast as Dad Malone, Addie's kindly tenant who's also the bar's headwaiter. Lesley Shires and Tom Berklund play an attractive young couple who generously allow Addie to join in their tango act. Ron McClary provides a solid presence as bartender Herman, and Margot White is morosely funny as recently dumped birthday girl, Myrtle.

But the real birthday girl is Addie, who finds rebirth and new resolve to take charge of her life during the course of her blithe adventure.

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