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Believing is Everything

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In 1952, The King & I, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Paint Your Wagon, Summer and Smoke, and Gigi (starring 22 year-old Audrey Hepburn) opened on Broadway. Three Wishes for Jamie starring John Raitt and Anne Jeffreys premiered March 21st.

The mostly young, talented cast of this current production rise above anachronisms with earnestness, energy, spirit, and decent Irish accents providing a singularly entertaining evening—a play one would never see otherwise…at a reasonable price.

This is a long, old-fashioned, Irish folk tale (with grounded charm) written for the kind of operetta voices utilized in Oklahoma. Lyrics are simple and dated, though not without poetry and humor; music is unmemorable, though lyrical and pleasant.

Ireland and America 1896: Jamie (Michael Mahany) jumps off a cliff to avoid his so-called duty- marriage to the horsey Tirsa (Jessica Wagner), arranged to provide financial security for himself and a dowry for his sister Kate (Anne Bobby). We open at his funeral. The keening is beautiful/the refreshments are fine. But Jamie hasn’t died. He’s been rescued by the fairy queen (don’t worry, you won’t see her) and granted three wishes: travel enough to make a man homesick; the woman of my choice, who would always love me; and a fine son who will speak Gaelic. He flees to America…after all, they have a McKinley for president, with his skeptical friend, Tavish (Gavriel Savit), the village Matchmaker. The fare is paid with Jamie’s burial fund.

Jamie and Tavish join a camp of Irish Travelers in Atlanta, Georgia where Jamie meets Maeve (Rita Harvey), the woman surely promised him. You’re my second wish, he begins. Unfortunately, her father (Steve Brady) is suspicious and Maeve is betrothed to Randal (Jody Cook). Jamie’s wishes don’t tread a cleared path. There are many unexpected complications, some rather sophisticated in their portrait of human nature-as is the outcome. This adds a kind of gravitas to what might have been a formulaic story.

Gavriel Savit is a fine bear of a Tavish. When Tavish kissed the Blarney Stone, it kissed him back seems an accurate description of the actor with a twinkle in his eye; adept at blustering wit and tenderness alike. Tavish’s philosophical musings are gracefully delivered in a manner suggesting experience with Shakespeare.

Michael Mahany (Jamie) is an attractive and able tenor, particularly in his duets with Maeve. Jamie’s indelible belief in the wishes is well played as a kind of innocence as his disillusionment is well played with confusion and anger. Mahany’s interaction with other actors, though, is hit and miss— sometimes on point and others as if he loses focus.

We actually see Maeve fall for Jamie during the song You’re My Heart’s Darlin,’ a credit to Rita Harvey’s nuanced performance. She has a lovely soprano voice which, at the start, seems a little thin in high register but grows warmer and surer throughout the play. (A little more warm-up?) This is an actress who listens—high compliment.

Jessica Wagner (Tirsa) reminds me of Carol Burnett. Her extraordinary whinnied laugh and exaggerated mugging are the kind of brave comedic characteristics risked by Burnett in her iconic television sketches. Wagner’s clearly trained voice is sometimes shrill, however. It’s unclear whether this is intentional or not.

Anne Bobby (Kate/Aunt Bid), Martin C. Hurt (Tirsa’s father, Tim), and Steve Brady (Maeve’s father, Shiel) offer solid performances. Bobby and Brady are especially without a trace of falseness. Hurt has a funny turn with the incredulous song Love Has Nothing to Do With Looks. (Uh huh)

The ingenuous persona of Douglas B. Giorgis as Dennis deserves special mention. Giorgis has sufficient presence to look like a deer in headlights long before we learn why. He’s completely credible as a shy, tongue-tied bachelor at home only with horses and adorable to watch (without becoming a cartoon) when his wife gives birth. She’s about to drop a foal!

Director, Thomas Sabella-Mills has much with which to work on this production and makes the most of his talent. The play is well staged, especially during the ensemble numbers. A respectable Irish Jig is a lovely surprise. James Stenborg (Musical Director) works wonders with unremarkable material. Song arrangements are pleasing (Goin’ on a Hayride and It Must Be Spring are terrific), harmonies flesh out melodies.

Photos, from top:
Jamie kissing Maeve
Kevin with Jamie & Maeve
Owen Roe Tavish
Photo credit
Michael Portantiere

Three Wishes for Jamie (1952)
by Charles O’Neal, Abe Burrows, Ralph Blane
Directed by Thomas Sabella-Mills
Musicals Tonight
McGinn/Cazale Theater
2162 Broadway 4th floor
212 362 5620 or
www.musicalstonight.org
Oct. 29, 30, Nov. 2-6
Next up: I’d Rather Be Right-Feb. 8-20

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