1966 was a busy year for musical theater, with such classics as Sweet Charity, Mame and Cabaret. Among these large productions, a small six-person musical set in Regency England in the same historical period as Pride and Prejudice was quickly overshadowed. While Man with a Load of Mischief ran for over 240 performances, the show is largely forgotten today. Rohnert Park’s Spreckels Theatre Company is trying to change that with a production running through Dec. 18.
One night, the titular “Man with a Load of Mischief” inn is occupied by the runaway mistress (Brandy Noveh) of Prince Charles IV, her lady’s maid (Caitlin Waites), a rakish lord (Jon Rathjen), his manservant (Michael C. Murdock), the innkeeper (Craig Bainbridge) and his wife (Eileen Morris).
The Lord is heavily in debt and needs to get back into the prince’s good graces. He has followed the mistress on her flight for his own nefarious purposes. However, it turns out that his manservant knew the mistress back when she was only an actress and has loved her in secret for years. Songs are sung and machinations machinated before love wins out as it always does in plays like this.
There are some very good performances here. Notably, Murdock’s strong voice and character work enhance his natural stage presence. Morris’ clear vocals and obvious joy on stage are a grounding force for the play, and Waites gives a consistently good performance as the saucy lady’s maid. Unfortunately, the visible age difference between Waites and Rathjen makes the romance hard to watch.
Lead actress Noveh is a trained and talented singer with an amazing voice which is evident every time she opens her mouth. One wishes that someone would tell her that, because a displayed lack of confidence robs her of the status necessary for the role.
The real issue isn’t so much whether this is a “good” play or not. It’s tightly directed, beautifully sung and well-costumed. The issue is that this play is nothing special. Even in 1966, a script with low stakes and no real edge in the face of the dangerously sexy Cabaret or provocatively funny Sweet Charity simply didn’t speak to a changing world.
While one won’t regret watching this show, one wishes that with so many other relevant musicals to choose from that Spreckels would have produced a play that one would regret missing.‘Man with a Load of Mischief’ runs through Dec. 18 at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Thurs–Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm; $12 – $36. 707.588.3400. spreckelsonline.com.