FREDONIA - The Department of Theater and Dance at the State University of New York at Fredonia has brought back a wonderful friend to the stage of the Alice E. Bartlett Theatre: the musical show ''Stop the Word - I Want to Get Off.''
There was a time when you couldn't turn on the radio or go to a performance by a singer that you didn't hear at least one of the show's three biggest songs: ''Gonna Build a Mountain,'' ''Once in a Lifetime,'' and ''What Kind of Fool Am I.'' But sadly, the show isn't really politically correct in modern society, and it dwells quite a bit on elements of the Cold War which are now past history, so the show is rarely produced any more, and the Fredonia stage offers a good quality production to a new generation and a new audience.
The show was written and composed by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. The entire show hinges around the actor playing the leading role and Newley, created the role to suit his own extreme self-confidence and his less than stellar singing voice.
Director Tom Loughlin has wisely entrusted the central role of Littlechap to Steve Russell. He is good looking, he moves well, and he has a fine stage presence. He has no trouble keeping your eyes on him, which is where they should be. His singing voice is a bit pale, especially in the big three songs, named above. But to give you perspective, he sings it better than its creator did, more than 50 years ago, and far better than I did, when I played the role more than 40 years ago.
The character is named Littlechap, and like Willie Loman, before him, his name spells out his character. He is a hard driving, ambitious person who has few talents and precious little consideration for the people upon whom he treads on his inevitable climb to the top of society.
The setting, beautifully envisioned by designers Rachel E. Fischer and Evan Hill, is a circus. All of the actors wear clown white on their faces. Littlechap is born in the London slum of Brixton and starts adult life as the tea boy, who brings cups of tea around to the workers in a factory. We see our hero having a number of meaningless affairs with young women, for whom he feels nothing, until one of his young women turns out to be the daughter of his boss.
That is the beginning of his climb. His great disappointment is his wife's failure to have a son, although the full punch of that disappointment has been reduced, since we now know that the father is the determiner of a child's sex. Every business trip he takes means a new hook-up with another woman whom he immediately abandons. Traditionally, all of his women have been played by the same actress, suggesting their inter-changeable quality in his view. Here, the role of the wife was performed by Danielle Izzo, the Russian girlfriend by Shannon Cunningham, the German girlfriend by Rhiannon LaCross, and the American cutie by Adelia Gueli, each of whom sang beautifully and acted well.
Indeed, one of the joys of performances at Fredonia State is that the orchestras are brilliant - this one was conducted by Sean Doyle - the people who sing can really do so, those who dance are good at it, etc. That was certainly true, here, and it is a quality to be greatly praised.
The international situation has changed very much since 1961, when the show was first performed. It's hard to remember now that Hitler had only been dead for 16 years, and the Soviet Union had only recently ''cleaned themselves off'' from the reign of Josef Stalin.The show is a bit long, at almost three hours in length, and it is made longer by the addition of a little circus made up of nine very talented students, which warms the audience up before the performance begins and during the intermission. It's all very good, but our ability to sit for three hours has waned, as the decades have passed.
''Stop the World - I Want to Get Off!'' repeats tonight, tomorrow, and March 14-16 in the Bartlett Theatre, on the campus of the State University at Fredonia. If you love musical theater, you can't go wrong. I loved it.