The "world premiere" of a thoroughly overhauled version of the 1927 musical Good News! is a lavish ode to the outright goofiness of the Roaring '20s: weird dances, newly gained freedom for women, squeaky voices and exaggerated clothes, and the madness for college football.
Music Theatre of Wichita's producing director Wayne Bryan and Mark Madama have written a 95 percent new version of the show originally written by Laurence Schwab, B.G. DeSylva and Frank Mandel, giving the plot some direction and adding a few songs from other shows of the era to round out the universally charming "The Best Things in Life Are Free," "Lucky in Love" and "The Varsity Drag." (All the songs in the show were written by DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson.)
The show is the tale of life at Tait College in the northeasternpart of the United States, where football is the new rage. Three romances putter along on the eve of the championship game: an old love affair gone wrong between Coach Johnson (Timothy W. Robu) and astronomy professor Charlotte Kenyon (Linda Michele); a budding love between football star Tom Marlowe (Michael Gruber) and studious Connie Lane (Kim Huber); and the comic shenanigans of third-string player Bobby Randall (Scott Schafer) and Babe O'Day (Annie Morrison).
If Tait can win the championship, great wads of alumni money will result. But Marlowe has failed his astronomy exam and won't be able to play unless he can make up the grade. To complicate matters, Marlowe's society girlfriend Patricia Bingham (Jessica Boevers) is already planning their wedding, even though he hasn't proposed.
The actors are clearly enjoying themselves. Robu is genial as the coach who will stop at (almost) nothing to win; Michele has a certain Shirley Jones poise as a woman who left love behind for a career. Boevers is snooty as Patricia, who wants the school colors changed because they don't enhance her complexion.
Among the young lovers, Gruber and Huber generate gentle sparks as Tom is taken aback by his feelings for this quiet young woman. Morrison is giddy as the irrepressible Babe, who climbs through windows in search of true love; her foil is Schafer, who has real problems with Babe's ex-boyfriend, the dumb-as-dirt Beef Saunders (Edward Staudenmayer, in a laugh-out-loud performance).
Local actor Steve Frazier steals every scene he's in as Pooch, the superstitious team trainer.
Choreographer Linda Goodrich keeps the dancing sharp as a tack: "The Varsity Drag" in particular has two dozen dancers in excellent synchronization.
The action plays out against Charles O'Connor's excellent scenic design of cubist and art deco elements in autumnal shades of yellow, orange and amethyst. The set, all cockeyed angles and asymmetrical shapes, is a character unto itself. Peggy Kellner's costumes taken from fashion sketches of the era are in perfect harmony.
Good News! could use a good trim; at a full three hours, its pacing swings wildly from high-energy dance numbers to slow-moving chunks of dialogue. The complexity of the set changes also slows matters down unneccessarily.
Fortunately, that's the only bad news about this Good News!.