Metro Weekly

Hazy Memories

A new musical adaptation of 'Summer of '42' captures the nostalgia of an age, but fails to deliver with its music

Those were the days: Ice cream cones cost 12 cents, going to the movies was the time to neck with your girlfriend, and an older woman having sex with a 15-year-old boy was a sweet coming-of-age story, not a felony.

Based on Herman Raucher’s novel of the same name, Summer of ’42 takes us back to the ”simpler times” when, despite the attack on Pearl Harbor six months earlier, for teenage boys it was still more about getting laid than worrying about having to one day go to war. Adapted for the stage by Hunter Foster and David Kirshenbaum, Summer of ’42 drips with nostalgia and an unabashed longing for the past.

Summer Lovin’: Neely, Wolfe, Sazonov and Timberlake
(Photo by Stan Barouh)

For a generation of men, Summer of ’42 is the quintessential story of an older woman initiating a younger man into the ways of life. Future generations have their own versions, including Mark Harmon and Jodie Foster’s Stealing Home and more recently American Pie, but for the late Baby Boomers, Summer of ’42 set their ideal. Unfortunately, Raucher’s story is only done partial justice by Kirshenbaum’s music and lyrics, most of which are forgotten even as the final notes are dying.

In short, it’s the type of a musical that may inspire you to hum a couple notes now and then, but you probably won’t remember where you first heard the song.

Set on a small island off the coast of Maine, Hermie (Ryan Nealy), Oscy (Michael Vitaly Sazonov), and Benjie (David McLellan) reunite for another summer of baseball, swimming and other assorted fun in the sun — this year with girls. As their hormones heat up faster than the season, the three wind their way through movie nights, campfires and sex manuals as they hope to hit the proverbial home run.

However, Hermie’s infatuation with Dorothy (Nancy Snow), a beautiful woman whose husband is at war, eclipses any interest he has in girls his own age. Hermie is the consummate bumbler, getting by on his youth and innocent charm. Nealy plays this role with conviction, infusing earnest enthusiasm into songs which are otherwise mundane.

Playing opposite Nealy, Snow is properly distant as the lonely young wife who will always remain something of a mystery to young Hermie. Snow has command of the music, but she too struggles with the utter lack of good material.

In the entire show, only two songs stand out: the sometimes hilarious attempts of the boys to cop a feel of their girlfriends during the drably named song, ”The Movies,” and the first act climax, ”Someone to Dance with Me,” which does provide a reason to stick around after intermission. Hermie’s nervous trip to buy condoms is also a highly entertaining scene, but otherwise the story blends together into a hazy fog of lyrics and actions. However, as Hermie’s sexually charged friend, Sazonov steals his scenes as a young cad, infusing life into the story when most desperately needed.

In an attempt to add context to the story, the love interests of the boys (or rather the sex-interests) double as an Andrew Sisters trio of singers, preceding announcements by Walter Winchell as to the state of affairs abroad. This clumsy attempt to repeatedly remind the audience that there is a war going on is unnecessary and distracting. However, as the strongest singers, Katherine Ross Wolfe, Jennifer Timberlake and Meghan Toney, are welcome additions to the cast.

Summer of ’42
To June 24
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway

Most notably, Roundhouse Theatre continues to excel at its staging, creating a picture-perfect set which captures the idyllic island summer. Hills and dunes of sand provide a proper playing field for the boys as they run and jump in their antics, ending at the foot of a small house. Opening like a book, the inside of the cottage provides a glimpse into Dorothy’s sad life, of which Hermie can only see small pieces at a time. Set designer James Kronzer has done a fantastic job at minimizing the staging needed for the other scenes — chairs for the movie theater, a counter for the drugstore — investing the set in the most important aspects of the story.

While Hermie learns the difficult lessons of becoming an adult, this musical is more adept at invoking memories of your own past rather than creating a lasting theatrical experience. Like a memory from long ago, Summer of ’42 is sweet but you don’t remember all the details. You can be happy to have had the experience, but feel no need to live it more than once.