If you love the marches of John Philip Sousa, by all means avoid "Teddy and Alice."
There is a certain logic to using Sousa's music for a show about Theodore Roosevelt and his irrepressible daughter, but writing lyrics for Sousa's marches does not make them theater music.
The lyrics are breathtakingly inane. In "Stars and Stripes Forever" lyricist Hal Hackaday rhymes "what I'll do," "Red, White and Blue," and "got an I.O.U."
In the middle section of the march, which sounds like musical artillery fire, the lyrics run, "I can hear them say I'm being jingo-is-tic," such a mouthful you barely even listen to the music.
To hear a familiar Sousa march with jabbery-lyrics is about as pleasurable as hearing a Shakespeare sonnet being tapped out in Morse code.
Richard Kapp, who adapted the marches, also has written songs of his own, which tend toward the cutesy.
Jerome Alden's book tries to blend the personal story of a father irrationally attached to his daughter with Roosevelt's politics. The human story is never affecting, and the political questions are reduced to pronouncements ("We're a world power now: We must have access to both oceans!") in which every other sentence ends with "Bully!"
Add to this superficiality a certain vulgarity (after a trip to Hawaii, Alice Roosevelt teaches cousin Eleanor how to hula), and you have a show that makes "Annie" look like a work of serious political theater.
Though the music occasionally strains his voice, Len Cariou does a brave job of spewing out the silly lyrics through a suitably toothy smile. He moves with wonderfully jaunty arrogance, but none of his considerable skills can make this Teddy more than a cartoon.
Alice Hume has a lovely voice Kapp's music never exploits. The most convincing performance is Ron Raines' as her ardent suitor; Raines treats his songs as if they were actually dramatic and almost makes you believe it. Beth Fowler handles her inept material with dignity.
The direction is amateurish, so devoid of a point of view that even the sets and costumes lack flair. Bring back "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!"
Gather round. If you are looking for a good old-fashioned musical - you know, the kind they don't write anymore - then charge down to the Minskoff Theater to "Teddy & Alice," the all-new John Phillip Sousa musical about Teddy Roosevelt, and say: "Bully!"
Not altogether incidentally, it was one of the minor, pleasurable surprises of this unexpectedly charming musical, which opened last night, how comparatively rarely Roosevelt is encouraged to say either "Bully!" or "Charge!" And there is not a teddy bear in sight, except on the cover of the Playbill.
It is quite a sensitive portrait of Roosevelt, who is seen as bereft at the death of his first wife in childbirth, and who sees in their daughter, Alice, the bittersweet echo of that lost love.
Much of this sensitivity can be credited to the multi-layered performance as Teddy by Len Cariou, who goes beyond the iconic national image of the jingoistic Rough Rider to a man of feelings that have been blunted and withdrawn.
The silent scene where, years later, he opens for the first time the music box he originally intended as a gift for his first wife on Alice's birth, has the special poignancy of great acting. It is also the kind of touch with which Cariou brings a dimension to his performance that is not often encountered in the musical theater.
But how about the music? Well, perhaps you associate Sousa with marches and wonder how many parades any musical can comfortably accommodate.
Wrong. Sousa was much more than a march king: he in fact composed six operettas, the most notable being the first, "El Capitan." He was a wonderfully gifted composer with a very sure sense of form and structure, a sense that makes his marches so musically effective.
The score, which has been adapted by Richard Kapp - who has written four original pastiched numbers slotted seamlessly into the Sousa music - is very easy on the ear. Indeed, its technique of putting talk-style lyrics to marching songs may remind some of that old Meredith Wilson musical, itself owing something to Sousa, "The Music Man."
The lyrics, by Hal Hackaday, are bright, nimble and witty, and the book by Jerome Alden, although simple - it is based on little more than Teddy's initial premise: "I can either be President of the United States or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both" - has a sentimental charm and conviction.
The musical has faults. The ending is undeniably lame (so they got married - who is surprised?) and this lack of a finale is not entirely compensated for by the razzmatazz curtain calls.
Yet all in all, this is a cheerful, beguiling musical with a great deal of pizazz and old-fashioned American musical theater know-how.
John Driver has directed this basically intimate musical with pace and a certain elegance; choreographer Donald Saddler, with all his customary expertise in such matters, grabs every opportunity to make the White House ballroom dance; while Robin Wagner rings the changes on the White House exteriors, interiors and Rose Garden with consistent skill.
Another pleasure is provided by Theoni V. Aldredge's delicately accurate period costumes, although I was surprised that the book did not make more of the once-celebrated "Alice blue gown."
Of the performances, Cariou posing and bouncing with all the bravura of our first media-statesman, and singing his patter songs with his own authoritative rasp, naturally dominates the proceedings. He is lovably outrageous and outrageously lovable - a teddy bear.
Among the rest, Nancy Hume is fine as the spirited Alice (who could guess that she would become the celebrated Washington gossip-hostess, often remembered for her remark: "If you can't say something nice about a person, sit right her by me"?); Ron Raines is splendidly ardent as the first bald romantic lead since King Brynner; and Beth Fowler scores neatly as the second wife wanting to outlive the memory of her dead predecessor.
The ably accomplished smaller roles include Nancy Opel as a convincing young Eleanor Roosevelt (who in real life loathed her little cousin Alice), and Raymond Thorne, Gordon Stanley and Michael McCarty as a stalwart trio of conniving politicians.
I love Sousa's music and thrill to its theatricality - Balanchine's Sousa-hymn "Stars and Stripes" is one of my favorite ballets - and I think there's a barrel-load of fun and sentiment to be had with "Teddy & Alice." Don't miss it - it's the sleeper of the season.
For those who worried that Broadway might be nothing more than a carnival fairway offering mindless fun, along comes ''Teddy and Alice,'' a show that fearlessly puts pedagogy back into the American musical. An extravagant treatment of the life of our 26th President and his terminally spunky daughter, the production at the Minskoff is full of fascinating footnotes to our nation's proud history. Did you know that Teddy Roosevelt actually said ''Great Scott!'' more often than ''Bully!''? Or that Eleanor Roosevelt caught the corsage at her cousin Alice's wedding? Or that Alice considered wearing white and red gowns to her coming-out party before settling on blue? That last item alone accounts for a good half-hour of nail-biting dramatic suspense in ''Teddy and Alice.''
When you add such tidbits to a monotonous, march-laden score co-written by John Philip Sousa and a present-day Sousa simulator named Richard Kapp, the result is an evening that combines the educational mission of ''My Weekly Reader'' with the entertainment agenda of a halftime show at a high-school football game. But don't assume that ''Teddy and Alice'' is just for the kiddies. Though there are enough obnoxious child actors on stage to capsize a production or two of ''The Sound of Music,'' the evening's major plot line flirts with an adult father-daughter romance that dare not speak, even softly, its name.
According to Jerome Alden's script, the psychotically jealous Teddy (Len Cariou) spent most of his White House years attempting to prevent Alice (Nancy Hume) from marrying Congressman Nick Longworth (Ron Raines). Teddy sees his daughter as the reincarnation of his beloved first wife and refuses to share her with others - never mind that such monopolistic practices are in violation of the newly passed Sherman antitrust act. A happy ending can arrive only when Alice's mother returns from the grave to encourage Teddy to give up the ghost. This exorcism, unfortunately, takes considerably longer to accomplish than the charge up San Juan Hill.
The first Mrs. Roosevelt and John Philip Sousa are not the only ones exhumed for ''Teddy and Alice''; the program lists the late Alan Jay Lerner as ''artistic consultant.'' If the show's creators had any respect for the dead, they would not give the defenseless Mr. Lerner partial artistic ''credit'' for a show that makes his own unsuccessful Presidential musical, ''1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,'' seem like ''My Fair Lady'' by comparison. Nor would they have outfitted Sousa's melodies with inane lyrics (by Hal Hackady) that rhyme ''her father's daughter'' with ''not a lamb to slaughter'' and describe flag waving as ''a great way to build up the biceps.''
To appreciate the level to which Mr. Alden and company sink, one must note that ''Teddy and Alice'' devotes less attention to Roosevelt's political career than to his housekeeping activities, and that it presents such figures as J. P. Morgan, Elihu Root, Ida Tarbell and Samuel Gompers as interchangeable musical-comedy cut-ups. Those hoping to find any ideological implications in the ''Teddy and Alice'' reading of history must draw what conclusions they can from the fact that the actor playing Henry Cabot Lodge (Raymond Thorne) was Franklin D. Roosevelt in ''Annie'' and that the actress cast as the lovesick Eleanor (Nancy Opel) did a stint as Eva Peron in ''Evita.''
The evening is not bereft of professionalism. Mr. Cariou, fitter of voice and looks than in recent outings, brings dignity and honest enthusiasm to a role that, as written, amounts to little more than a sketch for Harold Hill in ''The Music Man.'' Theoni V. Aldredge's costumes and Tharon Musser's lighting are of the highest caliber. One cannot say the same of Robin Wagner's busy sets, which make the White House look like Daddy Warbucks's mansion after a fire sale, or of the broad supporting performances, some from good actors, elicited by the director, John Driver. A particular offender is Ms. Hume's Alice, whose fussy singing diction reeks of the classroom and whose phony ear-to-ear smiles, more curdled than creamy, may well re-create the acting style President Lincoln encountered while watching ''Our American Cousin.''
The production's biggest miscalculation may be its complete misreading of the zeitgeist of its own era. If ever there was a moment for a feisty White House musical in the vein of ''Of Thee I Sing,'' this is it. But ''Teddy and Alice'' often seems to mimic ''Mr. President,'' the mild (though far superior) Irving Berlin musical of the Kennedy years. Along with their similarly staged flag-waving finales, the two shows duplicate White House party sequences in which the President's post-pubescent daughter introduces a new dance craze (the Twist then; here, something called the ''Leg o' Mutton''). ''Teddy and Alice'' is so blandly irrelevant to its own period and to our own that one need only alter the choreography and a few hemlines to retitle it ''Jimmy and Amy'' or perhaps ''Julie and Dick.''