We tried simply to amuse you, Not to sound too profound. Our aim was not that high.
Indeed, as the lyrics of this ditty from "Festival" suggest, the new musical comedy that opened at Ford's Theater this week aims low and hits the bull's-eye.
In fact, almost everything about the "musical fantasy," as the creators call it, is a disappointment. Almost everything was wrong -- from amateurish acting to songs that evaporated before they crossed the footlights.
The creators of "Festival" have tried to turn the medieval love story of Aucassin and Nicolette, classic teenage lovers a la Romeo and Juliet, into an upbeat musical tour de farce, full of romance, legend and laughter. But the musical nosedives almost immediately into a trite, humorless tale of lovers doomed to pine away in the shadow of parents who don't understand.
Aucassin's father sets up the comedy of reconciliation when he forbids his son to marry the foundling Nicolette. When the boy persists, he is locked up. Nicolette is sent to her room, where she is rescued by a born-again hunchback dispatched to kill her.
The well-scrubbed lovers spend the rest of the play crooning half-heartedly as they sidestep such obstacles as lusty shepherds, cutthroat pirates and raging seas.
All this is narrated by the archetypical Troubador, a role that the director has designed to allow TV actor Gregory Harrison a number of slapstick side parts as the murderous hunchback, a villainous pirate and a witch. It is an apparent attempt to mate Chaucer with Saturday Night Live. Hah hah.
The preview performance played to a forgiving audience -- a busload of tourists from Michigan who laughed and clapped and appeared to have a fine time. At intermission, one young woman said she had been especially thrilled when Aucassin ripped his shirt, displaying a muscled torso.
"Aucassin, did you tear this while trying to slay me a dragon?" cooed Nicolette. A few people actually laughed at that line.
From a prime orchestra seat, the music consistently drowned out the voices, turning the songs into acoustical mush. Not that the music was too loud, the voices were just weak, helped little by microphones that dangled out of range and dance steps that would make the least aspiring John Travolta yawn.
Nor did the program make the show more pleasant, for when one turned to read the lyrics, one found songs that would make nursery rhymes seem profound. Perhaps the well-trod medieval scenario gave the creators of "Festival" little to work with, but the adaptation gives the performers even less.
There was not a hint of the exuberance found in, say, a Godspell, no magic at all. FESTIVAL -- Ford's Theater, 511 10th St. NW.