Tyler Civic Theatre Center’s musical production of W.H. Smith’s “The Drunkard” is, if nothing else, an interesting slice of theatrical history.
The original version of the play (also known as “The Fallen Saved”) first debuted in 1844 and was essentially a piece of agitprop for the rising Temperance Movement. It soared in popularity and was soon picked up by P.T. Barnum, who took the production to New York City and soon began preaching the benefits of temperance in between acts.
Although, successful as the run was, Barnum eventually ended the production as men in the audience would, in addition to sneaking out back for a nip, would cheer on the villain and would shout at the protagonist to drink more.
There were revivals here and there, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that “The Drunkard” was reinvented. TCTC’s production follows that reinvention as the musical version adapted by Bro Herrod and Barry Manilow (yes, that Barry Manilow). You’ll hear the cast singing about giving up “demon rum.” You’ll watch as Jarratt Calvert (appropriately) devours the scenery, relishing every twirl of the handlebar mustache glued beneath the prosthetic nose. He’s Snidely Whiplash, if Whiplash’s main goal was to get Dudley Do-Right on the sauce and ruin his life and marriage.
I’m not really exaggerating, either. The nefarious lawyer Mr. Cribbs (Calvert) wants to sell the cottage inhabited by Mary (Victoria Dickson) and her mother, Mrs. Wilson (Laura Foster). However, when the charming and handsome Edward (Jonathan Davidson) is smitten of Mary, he’s determined to wed her and thusly save the cottage from sale. Cribbs, though, won’t be thwarted so easily and discovers Jonathan’s one weakness: Alcohol!
It’s actually a pretty fun little production, and not just for the cast who is clearly enjoying going big and broad and slathering on the drama that surely caused thousands of pearls to be breathlessly clutched. No, this goes the whole Vaudeville route, complete with crew members holding up signs to prompt cheers and jeers, bags of popcorn to toss at the villain, and live piano accompaniment. It’s fun stuff, makes for a lively presentation and helps to assuage the fact that it’s slightly too long for its own good.
Mostly though it’s fun getting a little bit of a history lesson that also goes to some lengths to poke fun at the Very Serious Business of warning the masses about the evils and dangers of Satan’s nectar. It’s almost hard to believe that people ever took material like this (well, the base material, at least) seriously.
That’s beside the point, however. The point being this was a fun show. I’m always happy to see organizations like TCTC think outside the box when it comes to their season and having a Vaudeville-esque production that’s also enlightening is certainly the way to go.
“The Drunkard” opens tonight at Tyler Civic Theatre Center. Descriptive theatre services for the visually impaired will also be made available beginning with this production, though reservations are required. For more information or for tickets, call 903-592-0561 or visit www.tylercivictheatre.com .