TACT and MUSICALS TONIGHT! Take Their Final Bow

Calamity Jane 2

Two companies are about to close up shop.

I’m going to miss both very much.

TACT – meaning The Actors Company Theatre – will cease to exist after a 25-year run.

And Musicals Tonight! is now in the last week of its 20th season with a production of CALAMITY JANE – a title known by many, but a musical that’s never played Broadway.

This isn’t the first time producing artistic director Mel Miller has offered New York a show it’s never seen. HOI POLLOI was a hitherto unproduced Noel Coward work. THAT’S THE TICKET never had one of its tickets torn in a Broadway playhouse, for the 1948 musical closed after a week in Philadelphia. There were plenty of others, too.

Most of the time, Miller would give us the chance to see a vintage musical and have us perk up and say “Oh, is that where that song came from?” Who knew that Cole Porter’s PARIS yielded “Let’s Do It,” Fats Waller’s EARLY TO BED sported “The Ladies Who Sing with the Band” and Rodgers and Hart’s I’D RATHER BE RIGHT offered “Have You Met Miss Jones?” not to mention their CHEE CHEE, a musical about eunuchs and castration, which gave us “What Did I Have I Don’t Have Now?” (Only kidding.)

CALAMITY JANE is Miller’s 100th production, which he feels makes a nice round number and an apt place to stop. But for those of us who cherish seeing hits and flops of Broadway’s past, we’ll miss following Miller from the East Side (on 14th and 1st), the West Side (42nd and 9th), the North Side (76th and Broadway) and the South Side (Well, the Laura Pels Theatre could be said to be south of Broadway) as the lyric goes in “Take Me Back to Manhattan.”

That song was interpolated into ANYTHING GOES, Miller’s 99th show that just concluded with amazingly impressive choreography by Casey Colgan, who also directed. Although Miller had started modestly with readings and a not-so-hot director, in the last few years he was offering fully staged, off-book genuine productions. Ah, well; that WON’T be the ticket from now on. But let’s all attend CALAMITY JANE and help Miller go out with a smash hit.

TACT had a similar mission to rediscover the past, although solely through comedies and dramas. Executive artistic director Scott Alan Evans (for years, with co-artistic directors Cynthia Harris and Simon Jones) would from time to time stage a one-time-hit that had become a now-neglected property — from the ‘30s (THE LATE CHRISTOPHER BEAN), ‘40s (HAPPY BIRTHDAY), ‘50s (THE COCKTAIL PARTY), ‘60s (THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE), and ‘70s (THE RUNNER STUMBLES).

The triumvirate often showed us that Broadway critics and audiences in the ‘80s made a mistake by not embracing BEYOND THERAPY. For those who missed LOST IN YONKERS during the ‘90s, TACT gave a second chance.

For the next four weeks, TACT will instead offer a new play by Evans (Charity begins at home!) and Jeffrey Couchman: THREE WISE GUYS is an adaptation of two Damon Runyon stories, one of the same name and “Dancing Dan’s Christmas.”

Runyon has been adapted for the stage before, of course, most notably in GUYS AND DOLLS. Is that why the marvelous projections by Dan Scully include a reference to B.S. Pully, the original Big Jule in that Tony-winning musical?

Although Runyon’s characters were not bluebloods but red-blooded average Americans, they never seemed to use contractions (“I will not be more astonished”). That made his dialogue amusingly distinctive, for his characters seemed to avoid “n’ts” in order to elevate what they knew in their hearts was their lowly status on society’s totem pole. Evans and Couchman have adhered to this standard while never neglecting that these mugs still maintained a criminal sense of entitlement. (“One year, I even paid my income tax.”)

The play takes place in the Prohibition era, so the guys aren’t into gambling as Nathan Detroit is, but rum-running, which makes Clarabelle Cobb just as frustrated with her man as Miss Adeline is with hers.

There’s more danger here. After all, the worst the guys in Loesser and Burrows’ musical can do is lose their shirts; here they may genuinely lose their lives, what with Heine Schmitz pursuing them.

Evans is a fine director, too, knowing enough to have Heine punctuate his threat by slamming his hat onto his head. Jeffrey C. Hawkins, Joel Jones and Karl Kenzler excel as the three not-so-wise men. Victoria Mack manages to do what so many cannot: in playing two different characters, she makes us not notice that she did double-duty until we see her Muriel but not her Clarabelle at the curtain call. Dana Smith-Croll superbly performs a role in the Margaret Dumont mode. Unlike Dumont, who virtually (and unbelievably) never questioned any of the many times that Groucho said something spurious or even insulting, Smith-Croll makes Mrs. Elizabeth Albright brighter.

THREE WISE MEN closes on April 14th – ironically enough, the 26th anniversary of the Broadway opening of the wildly successful GUYS AND DOLLS revival. To paraphrase a song from that hit, more I certainly CAN wish Scott Alan Evans and everyone else who’s ever been connected with TACT. And while we’re at it, Mel Miller, too.