The mark of a musical dramatist (as opposed to a songwriter) is that the songs tell the story -- ideally, the songs are the story. In 20 minutes with half a dozen songs, our audience had a pretty clear idea of what the 1968 musical Dear World was about. Jerry Herman, known primarily for Mame, Hello, Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles, proved himself a true musical dramatist with this extraordinary work. Adapted from the French playwright Jean Giraudoux's 1930 allegory, The Madwoman of Chaillot,Dear World tells the story of a Paris that is under siege because a precious commodity has been discovered underneath its streets -- oil!
Meet the villains (could you tell?): The Attorney, The President (of Cheney Corporation), The Prospector:
And who will save civilization from their clutches? Meet our heroines:
Countess Aurelia, The Madwoman of Chaillot. Why is she "mad"? For starters, she believes the world is still beautiful and happy.
Gabrielle, The Madwoman of Montmartre, with her pet dog, Dickie. (You can't see him because he's, well, invisible.)
Constance, The Madwoman of the Flea Market, guided by her voices that have mostly migrated from her sewing machine to her hot water bottle.
The stage explodes into action when an unconscious young man, Julien, is dragged onstage. During a suicide attempt, he has been knocked unconscious by a policeman.
When he regains consciousness, Julien confides to Aurelia that he decided to kill himself rather blow up the cafe, which the powerful Villains demanded. That's right -- there's oil underneath.
Aurelia is a true romantic. Distressed at Julien's suicide attempt, she persuades him that even
If your world falls flat on its face today,
You can erase today
A glimpse of the lovely waitress, Nina, convinces Julien there may be a reason to go on after all. Fleur, the orphaned flower girl, convinces him to bring her a flower. He hesitates, then takes the plunge. Both wonder that "I've Never Said I Love You" -- until now.
I've walked in the dawn
On somebody's arm
Repeating the old, worn-out cliches.
But I've never said "I love you."
I'm saving my "I love you"
For someone worthy of the phrase.
Spied on by Aurelia's friends, like the Ragpicker, the villains refine their oil plans for a blissfully polluted future.
— What about the Eiffel Tower?
— It already looks like an oil derrick. We'll use it as one! There will be a sweet taste in the air
From industrial waste in the air.
And your eyelids will smart from the sting of the smog
In the Spring of Next Year.
Warned by the Ragpicker and others that the world is no longer the "Dear World" of her memories, that emotion is mechanical and the nights of candlelight and music are gone -- Aurelia rebels:
If music is no longer lovely
If laughter is no longer lilting
If lovers are no longer loving --
Then I don't want to know.
If summer is no longer carefree
If children are no longer singing
If people are no longer happy --
Then I don't want to know!!
But even the innocent flower girl knows something must be done about the reptilian creatures polluting Paris. She consults with the Ragpicker and the Policeman.
Aurelia has her own plan -- a tea party. She, Constance and Gabrielle summon their formidable reinforcements: Gabrielle has the invisible Dickie, Constance her chattering Voices and Aurelia -- well, she intends to summons up all the great thinkers of the past. But first they need legal advice. Aurelia reminds Constance her late husband's brother was a solicitor.
I remember Georges,
His voice was deep and insincere
His hot and heavy breathing
And his lewd, licentious leer, The passionate obscenities
He whispered in my ear --
But I remember absolutely nothing
About my husband.
GABRIELLE: Dickie, darling little Dickie,
I’m so proud of My little plump little shy little
Dickie (kiss kiss kiss kiss) Dickie Always lying flat
On your fat tummy Here, on your dear mummy’s lap.
AURELIA: Everything that was, is.
Everything that lived, lives.
Ev’ry little thought ever thought
Is as lasting as time.
All the lessons
Voltaire ever taught,
And all the thoughts
That Buddah ever thought Are right here in this air, In this house, in this room With us now!
The villains seem on the point of triumph. The good people of Paris feel cornered.
The plan: To lure the greedy villains into a trap of their own devising. A tunnel, leading to vast resources of oil. Once inside, the earth closes over them -- with a little help from Aurelia and her friends. Paris is saved -- for now.
If one person can beat a drum
And one person can blow a horn
If one person can hold a torch
Then one person can change the world!