In 1946, Helen Hayes, tired of playing dramatic and melodramatic roles, asked her friend Anita Loos to write her a fun play. Loos responded with Happy Birthday, which won Hayes a Tony, as well as garnering a Tony for costume design.
Now, 57 years later, The Actors Company Theatre (TACT), an illustrious organization dedicated to reviving unjustly-forgotten theatrical gems from the past, revives it in a glorious production as part of their 20th anniversary season.
Mary Bacon gives an amazingly hilarious and nuanced performance as the lead, Addie Bemis, a young spinster librarian. She has stopped into The Jersey Mecca Cocktail Bar, a den of good-natured vice where good girls never go, in order to warn Paul Bishop (Todd Gearhart) that her drunken enraged father might be coming after him; as she inadvertently implied that Mr. Bishop was seeing her, even though she only really knows him from the bank where he works. Meanwhile, Mr. Bishop is there with his fiancee Maude Carson (Victoria Mack), who is jealous of his new "friend". Overseeing it all is Gail Hosmer (Karen Ziemba), the wise-cracking gold-hearted dame who runs the joint. Her son Don (Tom Berklund) is back from the navy, and planning to marry his girlfriend June (Lesley Shires). They mingle with other denizens of the bar, waiter Dad Malone (James Prendergast), bartender Herman (Ron McClary), Gabe Darcy (Joe Tippet) and Bella Lane (Hannah Cheek) who are hoping to meet a drunken Judge (Anderson Matthews) to see if she can get a divorce from her previous marriage before her baby comes, Myrtle (Margot White) who continually plays "Melancholy Baby" on the jukebox), and Tot (Darrie Lawrence) and Emma (Nora Chester)- two fun older broads who drop in after seeing a movie, and the mysterious Mr. Nanino (Joseph Masi).
Addie, after resisting alcohol for a bit, takes her first drink ever, a Pink Lady, at Maude's suggestion, gains some confidence, and the evening heads up from there. This is a play full of magic, love, song and dance, and TACT has given it a sterling production. I don't want to spoil any of the surprises in store, but let me say that wonderful work is done by all the performers, as well as the technical crew: Scott Alan Evans (Director), Scenic design by Brett J. Banakis, Lighting design by Paul Hackenmueller, Costume design by Campbell Baird, Sound design by Bart Fasbender.
Happy Birthday is a terrible title for a play (though it makes sense after you see it), but nevertheless I urge you to go see this show if you like fun at all. It is well worth a look.
YouTube Link to a Promo Video here
at The BECKETT THEATRE - THEATRE ROW
410 West 42nd Street, NYC
MARCH 13 THROUGH APRIL 14, 2013
Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday at 7:30pm
Friday & Saturday at 8:00pm
Saturday & Sunday at 2:00pm
*Special Wednesday matinee, April 10th at 2:00pm