For the second month in a row, you’ve got to make the trip to Ventura, because the Rubicon Theatre has done it again!
In February it was Tom Dugan as “Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal," and this month it’s a rambunctious, glorious-voiced cast of 23 singing and dancing in “Hello! My Baby.” Talk about a change of pace!
“Hello! My Baby" is the latest brainchild of Cheri Steinkellner, a seven-year veteran of the comedy writers’ table at “Cheers.” And she’s got the awards to testify to her talents. (Emmys, Golden Globes, and British Academy of Film and Television Arts, to name a few.)
Inspired by the energy of young people when she directed her daughter Emma’s junior high school production of “Anything Goes,” Steinkellner decided to write a show in the Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney mold that would add to the limited repertoire available for younger performers.
When she discovered that the old classic songs that she loved were in the public domain and no longer protected by copyright restrictions, she set to work to build a musical comedy around such treasured songs as “Won’t You Play a Simple Melody,” “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” “If You Were the Only Girl in the World,” “You Made Me Love You,” and “Ain’t We Got Fun.”
By adding some new lyrics and openings to the songs, she tells the story of a turn-of-the-20th-century song-plugger and the girl he falls in love with. As Steinkellner acknowledges, the story was inspired by the rags-to-riches trajectory of a young immigrant song-plugger/composer named Irving Berlin.
Ciaran McCarthy plays Mickey McKee and Evie Hutton plays Nelly Gold, an impromptu song-writing team that combines his lyrics with her music and comes up with a hit. But their path to perfect harmony is strewn with offbeat complications.
Nelly transforms herself into an Irish tenor named Ned O’Reilly in order to acquire her own job as a song-plugger. (Song-pluggers sang new songs on the street or in stores to encourage customers to buy the sheet music to play at home. This was in the days before phonograph records made song-pluggers obsolete.)
Mickey loses his job to “Ned O’Reilly” with the publishing family of Ethelbert Coots — Ethel being the bossy wife (Kristine Zbornick) and Bert being the hen-pecked husband played by “Cheers" veteran George Wendt.
The Coots sons, Albie and Artie (Tad Murroughs and Jacob Mattison) are also pressed into service, joining “Ned” in kimonos and white face paint to plug “Three Little Maids From School.” And special kudos go to Harley Jay for his comic turn as Johnny Giovanni, the wicked landlord.
Mickey and Ned write “Alice Blue Gown” for a young woman making her debut at a debutante ball, where Nelly and her sister Frances (Jordan Kai Burnett) are thrown out for being the “wrong” people from the “wrong” part of town.
Of course, as you might expect, everything works out in the end in the most beautiful way.
Thomas Giamario has designed a most exquisite set that morphs instantaneously from one site to another and Jeremy Pivnick has done his usual superb job with the lighting design. Cheri Steinkellner’s book and new lyrics are enhanced by the arrangements and orchestrations of Craig Safan and the musical direction of Lloyd Cooper.
But the definitive Tonys belong to director Brian McDonald, choreographer Lee Martino, and the amazing ensemble cast that bounces its way through 32 wonderful songs without a single sour note.
You’ll be hard-pressed not to sing along!
“Hello! My Baby" continues at The Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main St. in Ventura Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. through April 15. Call (805) 667-2900 for tickets or go to www.rubicontheatre.org.
This is the last weekend to see “Hello! My Baby” at the Rubicon, but it will be presented at the Lobero Theatre, 33 East Canon Perdido St. in Santa Barbara on May 5 at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and May 6 at 2:30 p.m. Call (805) 963-0761 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.