The show: "June Moon" at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Mass.
What makes it special?: It's the first main stage show of the 60th season of the famed summer theater in the Berkshires — and a production of a rarely-produced comedy by George S. Kaufman and Ring Lardner.
First impressions?: A well-produced summer delight, capturing the energy and spirit of Tin Pan Alley song writers and the can-do American optimism on the eve of the 1929 stock market crash.
What's it about?: An earnest young lyricist (Nate Corddry) arrives in the Big Apple hoping to make it in the music industry by pairing with a one-hit composer (Rick Holmes) in desperate need of a comeback. The composer's cynical wife (Kate MacCluggage) is looking at greener pastures and his gold-digging sister-in-law (Holley Fain) sets her claws on the naïve country bumpkin as soon as he sells his first tune to a hard-nosed music publisher (Timothy Shew), who is having an affair with the sister-in-law.
But the lyricist still pines for the sweet girl he met on the train coming to town (Rachel Napoleon). True love triumphs in the end thanks to a sardonic pianist (David Turner) — who has a heart of gold under the wise-guy exterior — who exposes the sister-in-law and reunites the romantics.
Boy meets/loses/gets girl. Not the most original of plots: It's a standard template, sure, but the fun is in the deft dialogue of the two writing masters and the fevered show-biz world that director Jessica Stone creates, thanks in large part to the sizable cast (supplemented by WTF interns) that give the production a sense of sweep. Stone has a great touch in establishing characters that are more human than their stereotypes suggest. The first-meet scene on the train between the young lovers is charming and even the more tough-cookie characters have more complexities than you would expect to see.
The writing overall is aces, especially as it skewers middle-brow cultural tastes (or lack of it) in popular music and the upwardly mobile middle-class. It's the kind of breezy, light-weight fun that's perfect for a summer's night out. No heavy lifting here. (That comes later in the season's lineup that includes the musical "The Visit" starring Chita Rivera. I'll be back for that one.)
And the cast?: Swell. Corddry is sweet, likable and, amazingly enough, believable as the wide-eyed innocent in a sea of sharks. Turner has a perfect sense of seasoned ennui as the seen-it-all pianist (a role that Stephen Sondheim played — and very well — in the television version of the play in the '70s.) MacCluggage, a regular at Hartford Stage, balances the not-so-likable role of the composer's wife with a kind of comic Alice Kramden weariness that softens her hardness a bit. Christopher Fitzgerald is a hoot as the ever-plugging songwriter, and Holmes and Napoleon do well in making essentially straight-man roles more than interesting.
Who will like it?: Fans of the snappy writing of Kaufman and Lardner. Theater lovers who long for large cast productions. Those nostalgic for more hopeful times.
Who won't?: Those who don't care for the predictability of "well-made plays".
For the kids?: Perfectly fine. Just an adulterous affair or two,
Twitter review in 140 characters or less? June Moon. Tunes. Loons. Swoon.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: One of the great joys of living in theater-rich Connecticut is to have such close access to wonderful summer theater — not only in the state but for day-trips to the Berkshires in Massachusetts.
Barrington Stage in Pittsfield is off and running with a busy line-up of plays, musicals and premieres on its multiple stages. Among the shows, "Kiss Me Kate" closes this weekend, followed by "Breaking the Code" (about the man who broke Hitler's Enigma code) followed by the world premiere of Mark St.Germain's "Dancing Lessons" (about a young man with Asperger's who seeks the instruction of a Broadway dancer).
At the Berkshire Theater Group's multiple stages, the musical "A Little Night Music" with Kate Baldwin closes this weekend at the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield. Then there's the world premiere of Erik Tarloff's "Cedars" starring James Naughton, directed by his daughter Keira Naughton, running July 23 to Aug. 9 at the Stockbridge theater, formerly known as the Berkshire Theatre Festival.
Then there's Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, with a repertory that includes "Julius Caesar," "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2."
And I haven't even mentioned Tanglewood and Jacob's Pillow. Now go traveling.
The basics: "June Moon" plays through July 13 at the Main Stage of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1000 Main St., Williamstown, Mass. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes, including one intermission. Shows are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3:30 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Information: www.wtfestival.org and 413-597-3400.