Book and Lyrics by Fred Alley
Music by James Kaplan
Story by Fred Alley & James Kaplan
Two thirty-something (or is that forty-something?) bachelors inhabit a cave-like apartment in Madison, Wisconsin basking in a blissful state of extended adolescence. One night they innocently order out for pizza, never expecting the delivery girl is the reincarnation of a woman they both wronged in a previous lifetime. Welcome to The Bachelors. Think Guys On Ice crossed with Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare and bad T.V. comedy. Think musical numbers inspired by Gilbert & Sullivan, Rodgers and Hart and the Four Fat Dutchman. Think…no, enough thinking.
Hilarious 'Bachelors' glows
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
By DAMIEN JAQUES
Posted: Jan. 17, 2008
The catalog of Fred Alley-James Kaplan musical comedies remains precious because it was homegrown, it will never get larger - Alley died suddenly in 2001 - and the material is so darn good. We get a vivid reminder of that in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater's revival of "The Bachelors," which is playing a short run here before a 15-city tour of Wisconsin.
Alley and Kaplan were tight friends who collaborated on a string of hits written for Door County's American Folklore Theatre. Kaplan composed the catchy and melodic scores, while Alley was responsible for the book and lyrics. Kaplan sometimes had a hand in those, too.
The shows were light, cute, clever and family friendly, heavily larded with Wisconsin themes and references.
American Folklore Theatre debuted the pieces on its outdoor summer stage in Peninsula State Park, and the Rep followed up with its own Milwaukee productions of the musicals, often with the same performers and director Jeffrey Herbst.
"The Bachelors" reversed that order, getting its world premiere in the Rep's Stackner Cabaret in March 2001, only weeks before Alley collapsed and died while jogging along a Door County rural road. The last of the Alley-Kaplan collaborations, it was also the most sophisticated.
That doesn't mean "The Bachelors" is complicated or high art. Revenge and adult men behaving as boys are the prevailing issues.
For comic spice, the creators slyly slipped in brief spoofs of Gilbert and Sullivan, "Romeo and Juliet" and those old-fashioned balletic scenes found in some dated Broadway musicals.
"The Bachelors" opens with a prologue set in Victorian London. Two close friends, deeply committed to bachelorhood, unexpectedly find themselves caught up in ironic conflict over a young woman. They are gentlemanly dandies leading foppish lives.
Given the choice of doing right by the woman, Kate, or bailing out on her to preserve their bachelor status, both fellows choose the latter, prompting her to throw herself into the Thames. But before Kate makes her dramatic exit, she promises retribution.
Reincarnation facilitates the vow. Fast forward to Madison in 2008. John and Stew are friends again, but their quality of life has plunged. Forty-something losers, they are roommates in a grubby, unkempt apartment, living out the dark side of the bachelor fantasy.
When a flirtatious Kate shows up one night delivering a pizza, the plot kicks into high gear. Now it is her turn to break hearts.
The Rep's production is smashing. Alley and Kaplan knew how to amuse and entertain, and the show even tugs at our hearts a few times. Herbst, the original director, returns with a trunk full of smart stage tricks put to expert use by a fabulous cast.
Katherine Strohmaier, who fortunately is becoming a regular guest actor at the Rep, repeatedly spikes the temperature on the Stiemke stage with the swivel of a hip or the bat of an eye. Don't be surprised when a big Broadway singing voice comes out of her.
The role of copy shop manager John, Kate's first victim, was written for American Folklore Theatre veteran Doug Mancheski, whose talent for physically comic acting is prodigious. He bends like a pipe cleaner, twitches like a rabbit's nose and puffs up like a peacock on steroids as the situation demands. A slow, guttural rasp humorously punctuates specific moments of dialogue.
It's a tall order for Steven M. Koehler to play straight man Stew, John's roommate, to Strohmaier's sizzle and Mancheski's hangdog helplessness, but he more than holds his own as a romantically skittish lonely guy.