The music used for this new version is by Fred Fisher. In 1913 Fisher wrote the hit song "Peg o' My Heart" and was promptly sued by J. Hartley Manners. In a settlement forced on them by a judge, Fisher was required to use a photograph of Taylor and the dog from the play, Michael, on the cover of the sheet music when it was published, thus ensuring more publicity for the play. The original play has been turned into three movies and was revived on Broadway (also starring Lorette Taylor) in 1922. It was the basis of a musical in London in 1984 from composer David Heneker. It ran just four months and suffered from confusion with another show bearing a similar title on Broadway, Peg, starring Peggy Lee.
The recent production of the Peg story was a workshop production which producers are hoping to return to the Court Theatre on Broadway in 2012. The story adopts a vaudeville motif by presenting each scene’s setting on a lit scene card down-left. The story concerns young Peg O'Connell played confidently (even if overtly broad at times) by the charming Brittany Lee Hamilton. She is being sent by her father (played by Scott Willis) to visit an ill uncle (her mother’s brother) in England. Upon arriving in England she is shown to the home of her aunt, Monica Chichester (Jennifer Smith). The Chichester family (her mother’s sister) is, for all her airs, completely broke. The family finds out they’re ruined after their bank fails. In one of the more ironic lines of the evening, Peg’s cousin Aleric (a funny Allen E. Read), has the line “What right have banks to fail?” Indeed!
Mr. Hawks (David Arthur), a representative of the executor of Uncle Kingsnorth’s estate has arrived with young Peg and instructions that she is supposed to be raised as a lady by his sister Monica, for which she will be paid. You see, Uncle Kingsnorth had disowned his sister when she married Peg’s dad. This was his way of compensating Peg for what he inadvertently felt he did to her. The instructions to the family though prohibited Peg from seeing her father. It also prohibited the family from divulging this agreement to Peg. If, after a year, Peg had become a “young lady,” she would then receive five thousand pounds a week for life.
Along the way, Peg falls in love with Chicester family friend, Jerry. When she inquires as to who he is, he responds “No one in particular.” That isn’t exactly the truth, it turns out he is Sir Gerald Adair, the executor of her late Uncle’s will. Jerry is played with complete charm by Jeremy Benton.
Unfortunately, director/choreographer James Gray has gone a little large with his direction and choreography of this showcase. The stage of the June Havoc Theatre at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex is small and some of the choreography felt ambitious for such a small space.
My problem with this production though was really the concept. The songs are light, frothy and very short. Sometimes these songs only last thirty-two bars. The book by Karin Baker is fine but could have been so much more interesting if it had had some sort of twist from the original material. Perhaps if the time period had been changed to the Great Depression or the 2008 Great Recession, something different, then perhaps it might have a chance at the Cort in 2012. We’ll wait and see. I’m not certain Broadway’s current audience will go for something that’s almost 100 years old. It just feels creaky and seems a bit of a chestnut.