The cast of LAST DAYS OF SUMMER (Photo by Cory Weaver)
By Marie Warner
Kansas City Repertory Theatre has partnered with director Jeff Calhoun to bring the world premiere musicalization of Steve Kluger’s novel LAST DAYS OF SUMMER to the stage, and it’s a rollicking production in the tradition of the MGM musicals of the 1940s and 50s.
LAST DAYS OF SUMMER tells the story of Joey Margolis, a Jewish boy in 1940s New York who idolizes the brash and brawling New York Giants player Charlie Banks. Young Joey writes scores of letters begging Charlie to hit a home run for him. Through a number of twists and turns the two are brought together and form a bond that changes both of their lives.
The book and lyrics are by Kluger, Jason Howland pens the music. Howland’s score is catchy and perfectly captures the sound of the era, especially when performed by the excellent orchestra conducted by Rick Hip-Flores.
Robbie Berson has a lot riding on his young shoulders as Joey. He’s tremendous vocally and does admirably with his comedic scenes. All of the child actors are outstanding, and Jim Kaplan is a touching stand out as Joey’s best friend Craig Nakamura.
Corey Cott gives a star turn as Charlie Banks. Cott is terrific as the swaggering Charlie, and his voice shines in both the comedic “They Know That It’s Me” and the emotional “You Never Have to Say Goodbye.” He has excellent chemistry with both Berson, as well as his love interest Hazel MacKay played by Emily Padgett. Padgett has a beautiful voice, and I would have liked to see more from her.
The supporting cast is equally outstanding. Lauren Braton and Katie Karel are hysterical as Joey’s mother and aunt — I would have also welcomed more from them. Chris Dwan, as Giants player Stuke, is winsome and gets a great solo number in “This Time It’s For Real.”
The problem areas in LAST DAYS OF SUMMER stem from its book. The relationship between Joey and Charlie is the focus of the plot, yet in the second act, we take a significant break to address Craig being sent to an internment camp. The internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII is a shameful episode in American history which deserves to be explored in works of art; however, the attempt at shoe-horning that storyline into this particular play isn’t successful.
The appeal of LAST DAYS OF SUMMER is in its nostalgia. It’s funny, charming, and touching, with a good dose of old-fashioned Americana. The themes of friendship, fatherhood, and sacrifice still resonate. I hope that with additional work on the book, LAST DAYS OF SUMMER will have a life beyond KC Rep.