CARMELINA -- At the Kennedy Center Opera House through March 24.
So much is expected of "Carmelina," a funny and gutsy Italian lady who is, nevertheless, not a performer of miracles.
The word is that Broadway needs a hit musical now to save the season, and "Carmelina" was put out by a team of hardhitters: lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner ("My Fair Lady," "Brigadoon," "Gigi"), who wrote the script with Joseph Stein ("Fiddler on the Roof"); music by Burton Lane ("Finian's Rainbow"), direction by Jose Ferrer ("Stalag 17," "The Fourposter," "The Shrike"); choreography by Peter Gennaro ("Annie") and sets, costumes and lighting by, respectively, Oliver Smith, Donald Brooks and Abe Feder, who might find it easier to list the hits in which they were not involved.
Georgia Brown, who was a star of "Oliver!," and Cesare Siepi, the Metropolitan Opera bass, play the leading roles.
Doesn't it sound like one of those ad hoc celebrity groups that rally to save New York from other crises?
But the task is a lot to ask even of a skillful farce laced with amusing lines and tuneful songs. This over-expectation may be why so many different types of crowd-pleasing ideas were thrown into the show, with a something-for-everyone liberality that refuses to take a chance on only one type of appeal. By the end of last week's run in Wilmington (with changes promised before its Kennedy Center opening this week), "Carmelina," while full of good ingredients, had too many bits of styles to have developed the strong identity that a musical needs.
The story, taken from a 1968 Gina Lollobrigida film called "Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell," is about a respectable Italian widow who turns out to have invented her dead Maerican husband, taking his name from a soup can. She doesn't know which of three soldiers she fraternized with during the war fathered her daughter, but they all send her support checks and then they all show up at once for a regiment reunion in her town.
The design of the show, however, is not farce as much as oepra, with colorful peasants dancing about in front of an ingenious set, a marvelously complete village square with the heroine's overstuffed living room and tile kitchen rolling in and out. What all these carefree types are doing in 1961, a now-legendary period when the dollar was apparently worshiped in Europe and Italians could live in luxury on $340 a month, is not clear.
Also for opera fans is the genuine opera singer, but his emphasis is on music rather than clarity.A refrain in one of Siepi's songs was "Dinshee?" which turned out to mean "Didn't she?"
Georgia Brown's Carmelina Campbell is in the style of ethnic survival comedy -- the gutsy oppressed who fight back with philosophical humor. She has the wit not to confess her lies tos the village priest, but to do it "in Naples, where it's normal." Then, suddenly, she has a solo called "I'm a Woman" in which not only the title but the approach is reminiscent of the feminist song, "I Am Woman." To declare that she doesn't need to be a wife and mother because being a woman is enough may be popular now, but it is a negation of this character's life, as shown both before and after the song.
Probably the most authentic character for this story is the Campbell daughter, played by Jossie DeGuzman in a pink "formal" as the sort of princess of Army brats who would, inded, represent the American fathers' ideal. This does not make her an attractive ingenue .
As the three American men, no longer dashing in work or romance, Gordon Ramsey, Howard Ross and John Michael King are, however, surprisingly appealing in a mellow song, "One "More Walk Around the Garden." If the show can be permeated with this sweetness and humor, accepting its slightly dated circumstances, it would have its own fresh appeal.