42nd Street Moon’s newest production is a fine example of the 19-year-old San Francisco company’s mission of producing “classic and rarely performed musical works”—it’s the first professional production outside New York City of Burton Lane, Alan Jay Lerner and Joseph Stein’s sentimental musical comedy Carmelina.
In the words of artistic director Greg MacKellan, Carmelina is “a lost musical that should never have been lost.” It opened in 1979, a date that critics and audiences seemed to consider at least 10 years too late for the gentle, melodious musical. Its arrival was just a month after Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd set a rigorous tone for Broadway that was at odds with the romantic quality this show wore proudly on its sleeve. The morning after Carmelina opened, Clive Barnes’s New York Times review called it a “resolute attempt to put back the clock on the Broadway musical.” Barnes went on to praise Lane’s score as “unabashedly romantic” and declared that “Lerner’s lyrics twist in the sunlight of his invention,” but the show ran only two weeks before closing at a loss of more than a million dollars.
Carmelina, which runs through Nov. 18, draws its plot (as does the far more financially successful Mamma Mia!) from the 1968 non-musical movie Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, the story of an Italian woman who has drawn paternity payments from three different American GIs who occupied her town during World War II and might be the father of her one daughter.
When MacKellan decided to revive it, he couldn’t just go to a licensing house because none carried the show. He approached the attorneys of Lerner’s estate because he’d worked with them before when 42nd Street Moon presented the earlier Lane/Lerner collaboration On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Once he had the rights, MacKellan had to reassemble the score—the original charts were nowhere to be found. Through the aid of Lane’s wife, they were able to assemble the composer’s piano/vocal manuscript, which worked nicely in a production accompanied by solo piano.
The recording of the Carmelina score by Original Cast Records has long fascinated
musical theatre fans. Now, thanks to 42nd Street Moon, they’ll be able to see and hear this rare gem in a full staging for the first time in 33 years.