The Pudding may have produced more pretentious and professional shows in its 108 year history, but few could have been more riotous and spontaneous than the latest production. Despite an uncertain start earlier this year, when no one seemed sure whether or not there would be a show at all, the Pudding has put together a fresh and easy bit of patter which is never dull. For the good-natured audience last night, which displayed varying degrees of sobriety, the show was a hit.
The producers of Love Rides the Rails skillfully turned an essentially dull script into a quickly paced and delightful mix of color, off-hand humor, pleasant music and a good deal of unblemished verve. The show lags at times, and the lines are seldom inherently funny, but the very lack of slickness and pretension make the pauses suitable relief before what is expected and does arrive at the next moment.
This year's melodrama concerns the efforts of two villans to rest the ownership of the Walker Valley, Pine Bush & Pacific Railroad from a defenseless, aged widow. She, inevitably, has a beautiful daughter who, of course, figures in the dastards' ultimate goal. They do not succeed, however, thanks to the "Courage and Valor in all Things but One" (Drink) of one Truman Pendennis. Not even poor Truman ever seems really doubtful about the happy outcome, and all is well.
Although the theme of the book is imaginative, author Morland Cary unfortunately does not come up with ample funny dialogue. But where the script fails, director James Paul has not, for he exploits each situation for every laugh possible.
Wayward Truman Pendennis, as portrayed by Charles MacVeagh, has a warmth and vitality that flags only when seduced by drink and the perfume of Carlotta Cortez (John Britton), whom, the program notes, is the "Peace of the Villan." He is always enthusiastic and never overdone--a tribute to his and the director's taste. The demons, Simon Darkway and Dirk Sneath, are slimy and deplorable in a hissable maner. As played by Paul Haskell and Jonathan Keyes, they are very successful in linking the whole show together. Marshall Schwartz, who plays the helpless daughter of "Purity, Body and Flavor," is tolerably sweet.
But perhaps the major charm of the show comes from minor characters involved in incidental routines. Particularly good is Henry Holmes, as Harold Steadfast, the indefatiguable buddy of Truman Pendennis. Preston Brown's spoof of New England economy and conservatism is touching with his flawless Marlborough Street accent. Timothy Gates, as the angel child's aged mother, has little opportunity to extemporize, though his exit song is delightfully dead-pan and relaxed.
The music for Love Rides the Rails by Varick Bacon and Victor Ziskin is uneven. Two show-stopping numbers, "Rag-Time Rosie" and "Friends" seem to redeem much of his material which generally lacks originality. Lyrics by Jay Cavior are quite clever. Choreographer Dolly Niggemeyer had little dancing talent to work with, but seems to have produced remarkable results--nothing fancy, but a varied and pleasing design. The outstanding freshness, which pervades throughout the production, may well have been stimulated by the originality of Webster Lithgow's truly inventive settings. Their informality and unobtrusiveness typifies a very relaxing and enjoyable production.