GLENS FALLS — Store your carry-on bag, fasten your seat belt, set your phone to airplane mode and get ready for a sweet, zany, magical and sometimes heart-tugging trip to all points foreign.
“Once upon a time there was a handsome prince … well maybe more just like a regular, old handsome guy … OK, fine. He’s just a guy, a regular old guy looking for love,” says the narrator, played by David Rowen, as the curtain opens on “Calling All Kates,” the Adirondack Theatre Festival’s romantic comedy musical, currently playing at the Charles R. Wood Theater.
Complete with TSA security check-in screening, runway lights, clouds and the soothingly exotic voice of the flight’s captain, aka narrator, the first show of ATF’s 25th summer season is a delightful respite from meanness.
“Calling All Kates,” written by Emily Goodson, music and lyrics by Jeremy Schonfeld, and directed by Chad Rabinovitz, opened on Friday to a sold-out audience.
Rooted in truth, this feel-good story of unrequited love, kismet and the unlikely promise of a half-heartedly planned encounter, masters a trip nearly around the world with minimal set changes and the engagingly present and seductive storytelling of narrator Rowen, who plays several musical instruments in the course of the show.
What makes this musical worth seeing is the combination of laugh-out-loud lines, near perfect staging and casting, spot-on choreography, contagious and meaningful lyrics, a whimsical musical score and a masterful set and costumes that subtly complement the overall performance. Not to mention, the connection Rowen makes with the audience.
What starts out as a story of Marc and Kate becomes the story of Marc and another Kate, each looking to fill that dark void sometimes created by a life gone awry.
Marc, played by Joshua Israel, always thought it would be Marc and Kate, the perfect couple, living the perfect life, destined to have perfect children in a perfect picket-fence world.
But when Kate, his fiancée, dumps him just before their wedding, Marc is in what he calls a “dark place” and holding two non-transferable, nonrefundable round-the-world airline tickets meant for the honeymoon.
So he decides to find a woman, any woman, named Katherine McBride to use “his Kate’s” ticket.
“Oh, right. She could be a bridge troll for all I care. I already lost a $10,000 deposit on a venue for the wedding that isn’t happening,” he tells his mother via cellphone while masterfully taking off shoes, belt and baggage for airline check-in at the show’s opening. “I refuse to let these nonrefundable plane tickets around the world go to waste.”
Still, Marc wasn’t counting on the perkily charming Kate McBride, played by Zoe Jensen, who wins over the audience within the first few minutes as she wows with a naïvely endearing approach to life.
In addition to excellent vocal range, Jensen and Israel offer the audience a good dose of physical comedy, rarely seen these days and reminiscent of greats like Carol Burnett and Tim Conway.
There are several particularly powerful musical numbers, including “Dead Inside,” “The Breakdown,” “Katie’s Lament,” “I’ll Fly to You.”
Perhaps the biggest and most magical surprise of the evening is the underground trip to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves.
Rabinovitz, also ATFs producing artistic director, said the play began several years ago after he read the true story of a Canadian man who actually did this after getting jilted by his fiancé.
Since then, “Calling All Kates” has been in development by the team of Rabinovitz, Goodson and Schonfeld.
After playing to audiences in the early developmental stages in Bloomington, Indiana, “Calling All Kates” came to ATF last summer for a staged musical reading. It has since been changed, tweaked, rewritten, and tweaked some more.
Two two ensemble characters — Matty (played by Mac Myles) and Alice (played by Hannah Berggren) — have been added, to bring depth to the musical performances and storytelling.
“Calling All Kates” runs through Saturday and the remainder of the summer season runs through Aug. 9.