Review: KC Rep’s “Last Days of Summer”

What started off as a spectacle turned into a tear-jerker by the end of the show. Multiple correspondence letters hanging from the ceiling welcomed audiences entering the Spencer Theater for the debut of the new musical “Last Days of Summer”.

The stage instantly immersed viewers into 1940s Brooklyn, a time when Snapchatting wasn’t a mechanism of communicating with each other. The alluring display offered no insight into the somber themes of racism, war and abuse that would later be explored.

The opening number, “Dear Mr Banks” introduces Joey Margolis (Robbie Berson), a 12-year-old Jewish boy who constantly writes letters making up diseases to potentially one day talk to his idol, New York Yankees star Charlie Banks (Corey Cott). In this scene, Berson establishes himself as a seasoned professional in both acting and singing, especially considering his age, with several belts.

Banks’ girlfriend, Hazel MacKay, threatens to break up with him unless he stops fighting with the other baseball teams. In order to please her further, he agrees to meet up with Joey to better understand his supposed illnesses and disabilities. As the two spend more and more time together they develop a close bond. Charlie acts as a father figure towards Joey, and at one point fills in for his father during Joey’s Bar Mitzvah.

Once the second act began, audiences could quickly notice the darker shift. The happiness once felt by the unstoppable duo became interrupted by the increasing threat of World War II.

Props to Berson, as well as Jim Kaplan and Josephine Pellow, who played best friend Craig and love-interest Rachel, for understanding how to act out these more serious topics.

For any actor, regardless of age, understanding the prejudice felt by many Americans during this period can prove significantly difficult. Younger actors struggle to understand how serious these issues are, but the trio portrayed them in a beautiful way.

Every now and then, humorous scenes would distract audiences from the forthcoming ending. Right before boarding a train to ship off in the Navy, Rabbi Lieberman married Charlie and Hazel. The scene poked fun at the idea of a lengthy Jewish wedding with the rush of catching a scheduled train. But, as the show progresses this humor disappears entirely to focus on the serious issues at hand.

The focus on baseball and cracker jacks gives way to racism and violence, as more and more Americans became concerned about Japanese threats.

For the audience, the awe felt stepping into the theatre no longer persisted. Even with the finale number, “Just Like Us”, viewers couldn’t feel that usual pizzazz one feels at the conclusion of a musical.

Instead many left teary-eyed, still reminiscing over the revelation that emerged in the second-to-last scene.

awf3cq@mail.umkc.edu

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