These days elements of past works strike a contemporary chord if critical of authority. It just takes a negative remark directed at a president to elicit a laugh. In “Dear World,” a concert revival (February 25-March 5) by the York Theatre Company as part of its Musicals in Mufti series, the fictional 1945 plot of greedy businessmen who threaten ruin in Paris by digging for oil evokes comparisons with the Trump administration’s plans to dismantle regulations to prevent companies from fouling the environment.
“Dear World,” a 1969 musical based on Jean Giraudoux’s play “The Madwoman of Chaillot” as adapted by Maurice Valency, has music and lyrics by Jerry Herman with the book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. A new version is by David Thompson. On Broadway the role of Countess Aurelia, the “Madwoman” of the title, was played by Angela Lansbury. The role in the 1945 play itself, that of an oddball woman living in the basement of Paris neighborhood bistro, has been a lure for actresses in France and here. (Katharine Hepburn played her in the film version.) Now, in the concert offering of the musical in the York Theater Company presentation, Tyne Daly is Countess Aurelia.
As fans of the Mufti series know, the productions are bare-boned with a week of rehearsals, and participants use scripts to aid in their dialogue and songs. At the performance that I saw, Ms. Daly was a bit tentative at first but soon moved solidly into the role and by the time she sang a major number, “I Don’t Want to Know,” she was in good form, as was also the case when she later movingly sang “And I Was Beautiful.”
“Dear World,” whether as straight drama or musical, has always been problematical for its mix of reality and flights of fancy in the imaginative plot and bizarre characterizations. Its best quality is charm, and the cast in the Mufti production handily conveys that aspect of the work as it progresses.
Daly, of course, is always fascinating to watch. There are other attributes. Alison Fraser is a hoot as Madame Constance, the Madwoman of the Market, and Ann Harada is amusing as the Madwoman of Montmarte. Kristopher Thompson-Bolden is graceful and sympathetic as the Mute who talks in sign language.
Nina, appealingly played and sung by Erika Henningsen, is the young love interest infatuated with Julian, portrayed by Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, who is helping to foil the businessmen’s scheme. The villainous would-be exploiters, played by Peter Land, J. Bernard Calloway, Stephen Mo Hanan and Gordon Stanley are wickedly funny signing “Just a Little Bit More.”
The welcome revival has been directed by Michael Montel with musical direction by Christopher McGovern, also on piano. At The York Theatre Company at St. Peter’s, 54th Street at Lexington Avenue. Phone: 212-935-5820.