Review: Alhambra kicks off 50th anniversary season with Neil Simon’s ‘Come Blow Your Horn’

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The Alhambra Theatre & Dining kicked off its 50th anniversary season last week by presenting the first show ever to grace its storied stage.

“Come Blow Your Horn” debuted Jan. 4 at the Alhambra, and just as it did back in 1967, the Neil Simon comedy had local audiences laughing and applauding the madcap tale of two brothers trying to live the swinging bachelor life while fending off marriage-minded girlfriends and overprotective parents.

“Fifty years ago, this old gal opened,” Managing Partner Craig Smith told the audience on opening night, “and we thought, ‘what a great way to kick off our 50th season than to do the first show to appear here.’”

With this new production, Smith noted, “Come Blow Your Horn” achieves another first, marking the first time that former Alhambra owner and longtime director Tod Booth, wife Lisa Valdini and daughter Jessica Booth have all performed on stage together.

“They are the royal family of the Jacksonville theater,” Smith quipped.

Turning back the clock

“Come Blow Your Horn’s” 1960s setting seems particularly appropriate for the Alhambra’s 50th anniversary kickoff, harkening back as it does to the decade when the dinner theatre began. Set designers Dave Dionne and Ian Black deserve special mention for creating a set that instantly evokes the “Mad Men” era of 1960s Manhattan, when Neil Simon’s first Broadway play debuted. That’s right: Long before Simon shared his “Brighton Beach Memoirs” of his New York childhood, his wartime experiences in “Biloxi Blues” or subsequent autobiographical outings, he focused his comedic lens on his early days as a naïve aspiring writer desperately seeking to escape from his parents’ control and emulate the playboy lifestyle of his older brother.

In “Come Blow Your Horn,” Simon’s alter ego, Buddy Baker, flees his childhood home the day after his 21st birthday and appears on the doorstep of brother Alan’s Manhattan bachelor pad. While at first concerned that virginal, straitlaced Buddy will cramp his swinging style, Alan ultimately embraces the chance to usher his younger brother into manhood by fixing him up with Peggy, one of his many casual – and accommodating – girlfriends.

The brothers’ plans are complicated, however, by repeated visits from their parents – who want both boys to settle down and work for the family’s wax fruit manufacturing business – and Connie, an aspiring singer no longer content to be one of Alan’s occasional flings.

In true Simon style, hilarity ensues as Alan’s apartment becomes busier than Grand Central Station and the brothers try to keep Connie, Peggy and their parents from colliding during one hectic night.

As the charming yet irresponsible Alan, Adam Kaster is suave yet sympathetic, winning over the audience as he begins to ponder whether there might be more to life than merely bedding a different girl every night. He shares good chemistry with Vincent Hannam (Buddy), whose near-constant state of panic complements Alan’s debonair demeanor. As love interests Peggy and Connie, meanwhile, Abby Jaros and Jessica Booth are two sides of the same coin. As Peggy, Jaros provides comic relief as the good-natured goodtime girl, while Booth’s Connie conveys the heartache of one who yearns to be more than just the girl du jour.

Yet it’s the roles of Alan and Buddy’s parents that unquestionably steal the show in “Come Blow Your Horn.” As Mr. and Mrs. Baker, real-life husband and wife Tod Booth and Lisa Valdini had the audience in stitches each time they appeared on stage. As Mrs. Baker, Valdini wields guilt like a baseball bat, wearing her wayward sons down with her maternal martyrdom. Booth is equally appealing, deftly executing his comic turn as the gruff, overbearing father who is both angered and hurt by his sons’ rejection of all he holds dear.

“Come Blow Your Horn’s” humorous take on the age-old quest to stop being a child and embrace the responsibilities of adulthood is still timely today, proving that institutions like marriage, a job – and a dinner theatre – remain as relevant today as they were in the 1960s.

“Come Blow Your Horn” runs through Jan. 22 at the Alhambra Theatre & Dining. For tickets or more information, visit www.alhambrajax.com.

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