How Now, Dow Jones
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
August 15, 2009
A story featuring a cheating fiancee, a suicidal businessman, and an eager-to-be-kept woman might not sound like ideal musical fodder, but How Now, Dow Jones refutes that theory. Max Shulman, Elmer Bernstein, and Carolyn Leigh's 1967 Broadway musical—which is currently getting a charming revival at FringeNYC—places such a daffy trio at its center and spins a happy-go-lucky tale of love and romance behind them. Only in a musical can a group this potentially maudlin be so darn plucky.
Kate, the perky voice of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and Herbert, her straight-laced businessman fiance, have been engaged for 3-1/2 years, but he won't tie the knot until the Dow climbs to 1,000 (a nod to the show's 1960s roots). Enter Charley, a failed broker with a penchant for French films and an eye on offing himself. When he and Kate meet, he woos her into taking a walk on the wild side that puts her engagement in jeopardy. Meanwhile, Kate's best friend, Cynthia, yearns to become the mistress of Wall Street superstar Mr. Wingate. But, when her dream comes true, she discovers that being the paramour of a 24-7 workaholic isn't all it's cracked up to be.
How Now, Dow Jones belongs to a refreshing bygone era of musical theater that assumes all of the characters are good people, flaws and all. It's a perennially sunny world where there isn't any problem that can't be solved by song and dance. Shulman, Bernstein, and Leigh construct a delightful show that follows in the old school Tin Pan Alley tradition, complete with snappy zingers, lush melodies, and sharp lyrics. Even a so-called minor work like this yields more than enough craft for a musical theatre writing clinic.
The program notes reveal that this new production streamlines Dow Jones by cutting several songs and characters, while restoring previously cut material. Being unfamiliar with the original I can't specifically address how well these revisions work except to say that everything looks and feels smoothly integrated, as if it had been left untouched. Director Ben West not only displays a nice facility for musical theatre conventions, but also a healthy respect for them (which is another refreshing aspect of this production). The eight-person ensemble—all of whom deserve a mention here: Fred Berman, Shane Bland, Colin Hanlon, Jim Middleton, Dennis O'Bannion, Cristen Paige, Elon Rutberg, and Cori Silberman—does an exemplary job, as does musical director Fran Minarik accompanying them all on piano. This is a fleet, enjoyable 75 minutes that musical theatre fans should catch if they can.