Reviewed by George Basler
For the past several years, Daniel Kermidas has been working to turn his grandmother’s stories of growing up in Endicott into a musical, Golden Days.
A year ago, an unfinished version of the show had a workshop production at the Endicott Performing Arts Center (BAMirror coverage). After some revisions, Kermidas brought Golden Days back to EPAC this past weekend for a full-scale production featuring a cast of 41 and an 11-piece orchestra, conducted by Kermidas.
The musical will certainly please nostalgia buffs. Kermidas lovingly recreates the Endicott of the early 1940s when the Endicott Johnson shoe company was in its heyday and, as one of the characters says, times seemed simpler.
But nostalgia only goes so far. Despite the revisions, Golden Days remains a flawed show that is not ready for prime time.
Things weren’t helped by the fact that last weekend’s production, directed by Kermidas himself, was a very uneven one, possibly because of the varying skill levels of cast members. Kermidas’ choreography — yes, he did that job, too — was uninspiring. The singing ranged from acceptably good to not very good at all.
Over the past year, Kermidas eliminated two songs while adding four songs. Still, only nine of the 28 numbers in the show are Kermidas originals. The others are songs from other musicals inserted as “place holders” while Kermidas works on a complete score.
One of Kermidas’ songs, “The Letter,” remains one of the best in show. Others are more forgettable. Overall, however, the heavy use of “place holders” makes it impossible to judge Golden Days as a finished product.
The show is constructed as an extended flashback in which an elderly woman, Rose, tells her granddaughter the story of how she and her boyfriend, Luke, fell in love in the days just before, and just after, America entered World War II. Nostalgic references to such bygone landmarks as the Lyric Theater and the bandstand in the old En Joie Park abound.
At the same time, a subplot focuses on Luke’s emotional turmoil of living with an alcoholic father. That two stories seem to be taking place on different stages. While the romance is sweet and light, the alcoholism subplot is dark and heavy. The change in tone can be jarring, and Kermidas’ writing is trite at times.
Also, despite the addition of a song, the relationship between Luke and his father remains underwritten. This is too bad because the characters of Luke’s mother and father are two of the most interesting in the musical. Lorraine Bennett and Colin Wood had a touching ballad toward the end of Act One and sang it well. (Alas, this was not a Kermidas original. The song was written by Phil Collins.)
One of the book’s major problem is Kermidas’ insistence on including the real-life character of George F. Johnson, the man behind the growth of Endicott Johnson, in the show. Johnson wanders in periodically to sing about life at EJ and, for no apparent reason, act as an advisor to Luke and his mother following the father’s death. While the musical supplies two pretty good songs for the Johnson character, they play like a history lesson that anyone unfamiliar with the Johnson legacy will find baffling. And they don’t mesh with the rest of the story.
Moreover, the Johnson character is muddled, switching abruptly from a union-busting autocrat to a saintly boss. His relationship with Luke just doesn’t ring true, and the plot device of having him counsel Luke in the second act is forced. Still Craig Hawkins should be applauded for giving the character a game effort and singing the part well.
As Luke, Dallas Elwood did a good job in acting the character’s anger and growing maturity. He held the stage well. Unfortunately, his performance was marred by a weak singing voice. Khala Hurd had a sweet singing voice and did a nice job portraying the innocence of Rose’s character. She strained, however, in conveying the deeper emotions of the role.
Special mention should go to Erik Tofte and Chris Ricci, whose roles as Luke’s two best friends, Jimmy and Eddie, were well acted. Tofte had a high point in Act Two when he sang “Love Changes Everything” as he and Luke left to serve in World War II. Again, however, the song is not a Kermidas original; it was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The show is certainly a love letter to Endicott, and Kermidas had some nice directorial touches. A scene at the end when the older Rose and Luke embrace while their younger counterparts do the same is genuinely touching.
Overall, however, Golden Days remains very much a work in progress.