MILL HALL - "Come Blow Your Horn" holds special significance for Millbrook Playhouse - and for me.
With 7:30 p.m. performances tonight through Sunday in the Downstairs Cabaret, Neil Simon's first play was also the first play ever presented at Millbrook, 50 years ago. It was staged on the upstairs Main Stage, as the Cabaret, with its patron's seating around tables and bringing their own food and drink, wasn't built till decades later.
For me, the movie version starring Frank Sinatra really whetted my interest because up on the movie screen was Tony Bill, a friend and fellow graduate of Notre Dame's communication arts department. Bill, living on the West Coast, landed a seven-picture deal with United Artists shortly after our graduation. Bill's first role was in "Come Blow Your Horn," released in 1963, with him cast as Sinatra's younger brother.
You can imagine my reaction when I saw him cavorting on the screen with Jill St. John. That sensation was only topped in 1973, when my classmate, after acting, directing and producing a dozen movies, accepted the Academy Award for "The Sting" as Best Film of the Year.
The stage version is set in Alan Baker's Manhattan apartment in the '60s, when the carefree bachelor is leading the good life: wine, women and no worries or commitments.
His lifestyle rapidly changes when his young brother, Buddy, "runs away from home" and moves in with Alan. Soon Buddy's cautious and conservative ways disappear as he picks up his brother's habits, and a few girls, incurring the wrath of his parents.
"Come Blow Your Horn" has a basic premise and a very predictable ending. What Simon says often is very funny, with plenty of one-line zingers. But unlike many of his later comedies, the six characters in "Come Blow Your Horn" are only two dimensional.
Joseph McGranaghan plays Alan with a good mix of emotion and energy. Daniel Tepper is fine as the timid younger brother Buddy who learns quickly there is more to life than working in his family's waxed fruit business. There's good chemistry between the brothers especially as a confrontation opens Act III, almost a precursor of Oscar and Felix ("The Odd Couple") bickering about the messy apartment.
Erin McMahon plays the air-head girl upstairs, Peggy. The other girl in Alan's life is Connie (Mary Ruth Baggott) who seeks Alan's commitment to marriage, making her different if not level-headed.
And then there are the doting parents who show up at Alan's apartment with their own comical agendas. Staci Morin plays Mrs. Baker, the over-hyper mother fixated on food and her family. But she over-acts in most scenes, always overly wrought, sounding often like Mae, the protective mother in "Bye, Bye, Birdie." Her best moment is a monologue when she attempts to take down a series of telephone messages while searching for a pencil.
Her worst moments are during intermission. Having her appear in character to make a pitch to the audience to buy 50/50 tickets is questionable. But having her urge the winning patron to turn the proceeds back to the Playhouse ("the little theater in the country") brought some laughs but is too amateurish for a professional theater.
Getting the lion's share of laughs is Millbrook veteran Frank Franconeri as Mr. Baker. Simon gives the father the funniest one-liners with Franconeri crotchety and blustery, lifting every scene he's in.
Back in the '60s, comedies were written in three acts. With no time lapse between Act I and Act II (except for a moment of darkness), the play lasts for almost 90 minutes. Although Act III is considerably shorter, this forced format breaks the play's flow. But Director Adam Knight keeps the pacing fast with the cast highly animated in delivering the funny dialogue.
"Come Blow Your Horn" delivers plenty of laughs and, even with somewhat stereotypical scenes and characters, is fun to watch. It's a good, logical choice for Millbrook to celebrate its historic season.
Fifty years of live theater in at the "Barn." That's plenty reason to come toot its own horn.
To reach the box office, call 748-8083.