Reviewed by Judy Richter
"Harold & Maude," a 1971 film that got mixed reviews but that has become a cult favorite, now emerges in a musical form, "Harold & Maude: An Intimate Musical." With witty lyrics and book by Tom Jones of "The Fantasticks" fame (based on Colin Higgins' screenplay) and tuneful music by Joseph Thalken, the show is receiving its West Coast premiere from TheatreWorks. It premiered at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, but it has been revised since then. Moreover, it had part of its genesis at a TheatreWorks Writers' Retreat in January 2004. As a point of interest, much of the film was shot on the San Francisco Peninsula, including Palo Alto, where the musical is playing.
It's a clever, entertaining show with a terrific cast: Eric Shelley as Harold, the 17-year-old obsessed with suicide and death; Pamela Myers as Maude, the sprightly 79-year-old who befriends him; Alice Vienneau as Mrs. Chasen, Harold's self-absorbed mother; Alison Ewing in a variety of female roles and Daniel Marcus in a variety of male roles. Ewing is hilarious as Sunshine, a one-named actress who's not dismayed by Harold's antics and who delivers wonderful parodies of "The Fantasticks" and Philip Glass. Marcus is especially memorable as Harold's Uncle Victor, a militant Army officer who appears in uniform in front of a huge American flag a la "Patton." Vienneau is featured in a parody of a Walt Disney witch.
Even though Myers doesn't look anywhere near 79, her performance quickly allows suspension of disbelief. But there's one anachronism: Mrs. Chasen tries to hook Harold up with women through a computer dating service, which would have been highly unlikely in the early '70s. Otherwise, though, it's a delightful show with sharp direction by Robert Kelley, musical direction by William Liberatore, simple sets by Thomas F. Langguth, character- and time-specific costumes by Cathleen Edwards, lighting by Steven B. Mannshardt and Z. William Bakal, sound by Steve Schoenbeck and projections by Ethan Hoerneman.
The show also lives up to its subtitle, "An Intimate Musical," playing well in the intimate Lucie Stern Theatre, where the opening night audience responded enthusiastically.