NOTES: Lerner and Loewe’s “The Day Before Spring”
Lerner and Loewe’s poetically-titled “The Day Before Spring” (1945) is lovingly restored from the recesses of obscurity as the 112th presentation in York Theatre Company’s annual “Musicals in Mufti” series of no-frills concert productions of long-forgotten musicals.
The second of three musicals in this winter’s installment marking the centennial of librettist and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, “The Day Before Spring” has only been seen in New York once before since closing on Broadway in 1946 after only 167 performances.
That was a 2007 “Mufti” presentation relying on incomplete archival materials from the Library of Congress since no full score, script, or cast recording was left behind. In 2009, the full score was discovered among MGM materials at California State University, Long Beach, allowing for a full musical reconstruction in London in 2010.
For this second New York revival, director Mark Acito (“Allegiance”) further adapts the musical into a one act, translating the setting from 1945 to 1958 (avoiding the grim aftermath of World War II)—moves that revise and resurrect a charming gem from an age of musical revolution and make it as appropriate and digestible for the present as is likely possible.
Long before social media destroyed the concept of school reunions, “The Day Before Spring” concerns a 10th anniversary reunion at the fictional Harvardale College at which—in a playful presage of Sondheim and Goldman’s darker “Follies” (1971)—multiple couples reunite, reminisce, regret, and renew.
The title refers to a book by Alex Maitland (Jesse Manocherian) that imagines what his inchoate college romance with Katherine Talbot (Madison Claire Parks) would have become had a stalled car and chance meeting with Peter Talbot (Will Reynolds) not stemmed it from fruition.
Ten years later, Peter, a glue inventor in search of a removal solution (metaphor alert!), and Katherine, in the thrall of Alex’s book, have grown distant—a fact demonstrated by the smart device of physically keeping them apart for almost the entirety of the show.
Along with their friends, May (Michelle Liu Coughlin) and Bill (Nicolas Dromard) Packard, Katherine and Peter return to Harvardale, encountering Alex—whom Katherine decides to pursue following a surreal musical encounter with Plato, Voltaire, and Freud in the school library; Christopher Randolph (Alyse Alan Louis), a woman in love with Peter despite having never met him; and their old drinking buddies, Eddie Aarons (Ian Lowe) and Harry Scott (Kent M. Lewis).
The melodic score and witty book are welcomed surprises, as is the alchemy of Mr. Acito, which makes theatrical gold from briefly rehearsed, low-budget “Mufti” trappings, cleverly utilizing the space, crafting a singular tone, and eliciting comedic and heartfelt performances from the cast.
“My Love is a Married Man” and “A Jug of Wine”—incidentally both sung by Ms. Louis’s minor character—are standouts of the score, which includes a few riffs reminiscent of Lerner and Loewe’s later, record-breaking “My Fair Lady” (1956), and one unfortunately tone-deaf hymn to bro solidarity (“Friends to the End”).
“The Day Before Spring”, which closes Sunday, stands as an enjoyable artifact from a time of great shift in form, and is well-worth a visit. Next up in the series is “Lolita, My Love”, a musical that closed out-of-town in 1971 and hasn’t been seen anywhere since.
Running Time: 90 minutes (no intermission)
Opening Night: February 10, 2019
Final Performance: February 17, 2019