Reviewer: Holly Spanner
Who is John Doe? Big, small, simple, or wise? The average American, or someone with the potential to change the country? Or, is he simply, a fake?
When ambitious reporter Ann Mitchell is fired in the heights of the Depression, she decides to write a letter to her own column from a John Doe. Protesting the state of society, he threatens to commit suicide off the Brooklyn Bridge on New Year’s Eve. The letter is printed, and John Doe quickly becomes a citywide sensation, touching the hearts of the American people as they empathise with him and his struggles. Hiring unemployed baseball player (and the very handsome) John Willoughby to play John Doe, Ann begins ghost-writing columns for him to reclaim her job. However, the pair must decide how far to take the story they’ve created.
With music and lyrics by Andrew Gerle and Eddie Sugarman, Meet John Doe is based on the classic 1941 Frank Capra film. Since originally being produced as a concert style production in 2006, Meet John Doe has received the Jonathan Larson Award, and has been nominated for seven Helen Hayes awards, winning two (for director Eric Schaeffer and Heidi Blickenstaff). A stellar piece of casting, the awards are easily justified. Heidi Blickenstaff plays reporter Ann Mitchell, and is a delight throughout the entire album. From ‘I’m Your Man’ early in the first act; her passion for reporting is evident as we follow her story. Strong, feisty, loving and positive you can’t help but like her. ‘I Hope You Can See This’ is beautiful and tender, but a song which could be made more of. Robert Cuccioli as D.B.Norton, the newspaper owner, plays the typical confident boss urging for more readers, while James Moye is our John Doe, John Willoughby.
There is a real toe-tapping, vintage feel to this soundtrack. It has a jazzy, swing vibe which carries tastefully throughout, but not overdone so much as to make it too stylised. The narrative is witty, with an intricate dialogue, but easy to follow without seeing the stage show. However, it is lacking that special something – a big show stopping number to be mesmerised by, and left humming long after the music stops. Having said that, with close harmonies made popular in the 40’s, the ‘Meet John Doe Jingle’ (track 11) is annoyingly catchy, despite its short length. As with the film, there is the traditional, but comforting take-home message with this musical, that ordinary men (and women) can triumph against the odds and with a touch of the contemporary and traditional jazz-hands musical numbers, Meet John Doe is a safe bet. It just needs that something else to give it the real wow-factor.