Derby Dinner Playhouse — Good News!

By Les Reynolds

It's 1928, a time of new-found confidence, uninhibited fun and new ideas — and college football! The undefeated Tait College gridiron squad is one game shy of winning it all. But, as is soon discovered in Mark Madama and Wayne Bryan's new adaptation of Good News, the game is only part of this entertaining, physical and somewhat zany musical comedy, produced and directed by Bekki Jo Schneider.

Though set over a half-century ago, the familiar story line contains equally familiar and contemporary elements: hero worship, romance (and its complications), the age-old education-versus-athletics debate, college pranks, status symbols and liberated women.

As the play opens, The Big Game with arch-rival Colton approaches. We find the promise of fame and fortune awaiting not only the school but its star player, Tom Marlowe (played by Ed Kross and with a broken foot, no less!). If he can lead his team to victory, Dean Bingham will proclaim a Tom Marlowe scholarship, bless the marriage of Tom to his self-centered daughter Pat (Janet Essenpreis) and pave the way to a professional football career.

Only it's not all so simple. The Pat-Tom relationship is about a centimeter deep and Tom's mind can't stay on academics during football season. He flunks an all-important astronomy test. Coach Johnson (Paul Kerr), having relationship problems of his own (with Professor Charlotte Kenyon, played by Sandra Simpson), suggests a tutor for a make-up exam. Pat is the first choice, but she is too self-occupied to really care. She suggests her intellectual, football-hating cousin Connie Lane (Colette Delaney) and (surprise?) a new romance blooms. What happens afterwards opens up into a series of wacky sub-plots that'll keep you glued to the set and laughing.

What the play doesn't do, however, at least very thoroughly, is "transport" you back in time to the Twenties. Sure the clothes are colorful and accurate, right down to the women's flapper-style costumes, a few old leather football helmets and even a long fur coat. However, "time travel" is an understandably much more difficult task on a live stage than on film. Overall the acting is solid and the songs from the Twenties ("Button Up Your Overcoat," "Lucky In Love," and "Keep Your Sunny Side Up") are well done.

There were, however, several outstanding aspects to Good News: The most noticeable character had to be Pat as the "girl-you-love to hate." Tom's snobby, egotistical self-serving girlfriend played her part to the hilt — very realistic. Most of us know people like her character, so she's very easy to identify with. Essenpreis played her part so well that it was hard to even feel sorry for Tom. Instead, you ll wonder how much more sickening she can get, eagerly awaiting her next line.

For sheer emotion, Delaney and Kross (Connie and Tom) pull together one of the play's best scenes. After both Tom and Connie realize how they feel about each other, Tom tells Connie he has too much riding on marrying Pat to allow the relationship to continue. A very touching, emotional moment. Delaney's singing voice was another highlight of the play, though not featured enough.

If you enjoy good choreography, Good News has lots of it. Barbara Cullen, who plays the fickle and aggressive Babe O'Day, is an obviously experienced dancer who seemed to truly enjoy her part and provides the audience with lots of laughs with her antics. The football team as well showed real skill with its well-choreographed, real-life practice drills. (And wait til you see the slow-motion final play of the Big Game.!) (Babe, however, had the best moves.) Though humor is abundant, one scene that gets howls is Coach Johnson's tongue-tied encounter with Prof. Kenyon as he tries to rekindle a long-ago broken-up romance. And, one can't help but roll in the aisles at Johnson's ridiculous garb during his Tiny Tim-like serenade.

Space and keeping curiosity intact prohibit any further explanation, but one thing more needs mention: "Pre-game" entertainment was provided by The Footnotes, a talented nine-member group who performed songs from upcoming attractions. Formerly known as The Barnstormers, the name change was the result of a suggestion by a patron (Pat Newcom).

Good News runs through April 30 at the Derby Dinner Playhouse in Clarksville, Ind.

For reservations call 812-2. 88-8281. Discounts are available for children, senior citizens and groups of 20 or more.