Forge Theatre in Phoenixville opened LI’L ABNER on Friday November 9. To our younger readers, this is a complete unknown, to the more mature it’s a pleasant memory of days past reading the “funny papers” on a Sunday morning. With character names like Marryin’ Sam, Senator Jack S. Phogbound, Stupefyin’ Jones, et al, it’s a comedic look at a stereotype that in today’s society would be viewed as something very different than it was at the height of its popularity. Li’l Abner the comic strip ran for 43 years (from 1934-1977) and was one of the most popular strips in the papers. It took place in the fictional town of Dogpatch, Kentucky, and focused on the Yocum family…Mammy, Pappy, and Li’l Abner, who was anything but little, and Daisy Mae Scragg, the lovely girl trying to get Li’l Abner to marry her. LI’L ABNER the musical assumes you know the characters and story of the comic strip, so people who are unfamiliar with the characters may be a bit perplexed at first, but it’s soon obvious that this is a playful jab at many stereotypical figures.
The central figures in this production are Li’l Abner (Carey Rumpf) and Daisy Mae (Danielle Greenberg.) They have good chemistry and both have the physical attributes that identify their characters the most. Rumpf needs to smile more, as Abner was always a cheerful fellow, and Rumpf’s Abner looks much too serious. Jim Kelsh portrays Marryin’ Sam with great energy and joy. His performance is one of the highlights of the show. Other performances of note include Scott Coonradt as Earthquake McGoon, Eric Thompson as Dr. Rasmussen T. Finsdale, Bob Goretski as General Bullmoose, and Melanie Magolan as Appassionata VonClimax. They all add something to their characters, with Thompson and Goretski especially connecting with the audience
Director Stevie Tagye keeps the action moving, with a comic-themed pastoral backdrop and minimal set pieces keeping scene changes brisk for the most part. The pit orchestra is in the lobby, and this allows them to play without overpowering the singers on stage. Choreographer Gail Oldfield kept the dances simple and effective, so the cast can work together more easily on the small stage.
I saw the show on opening night. I suspect there was some rehearsal time lost to Hurricane Sandy, as the cast at times seemed unpolished in some of the production numbers, and there was a hesitation at times on where to go and what to do, even with the principals. With several performances under their belt by the time you read this, I am sure the production has tightened up. The cast has done a good job of bringing the past to life, even a cartoon past. There is much to like in this production, and the shortcomings soon seem trivial.
Music by Gene dePaul, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, Book by Norman Panama, Melvin Frank, and Michael Kidd
Based on the comic strip Li’l Abmer by Al Capp
November 9 thru December 1, 2012
243 1st Avenue
Phoenixville, PA 19460