Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


'Doonesbury': a lively leap to stage

By John Beaufort / December 2, 1983



New York

Doonesbury. Musical by Garry Trudeau (book and lyrics) and Elizabeth Swados (music), based on Mr. Trudeau's ''Doonesbury.'' Directed by Jacques Levy. Choreographed by Margot Sappington.

Skip to next paragraph

Please move over, Orphan Annie, the Peanuts gang, Li'l Abner, Superman, and such other cartoon characters as have made the trip from the comics page to the musical stage. Make space for Mike Doonesbury - a small space, because ''Doonesbury,'' at the Biltmore Theatre, is a modest musical. But modesty doesn't prevent it from being a larkish lampoon of an entertainment, sometimes sweet and often very funny. Furthermore, the adaptation is performed with high-spirited affection by a cast that seems to have stepped fresh from the satirical Garry Trudeau strip.

It isn't necessary to have been one of Mr. Trudeau's 60 million readers (in 710 newspapers worldwide) to enjoy ''Doonesbury.'' Just give yourself enough time to sort out the identities of the undergraduate residents of Walden, an off-off-campus house, as they approach graduation weekend. Besides Mike Doonesbury (Ralph Bruneau), they are fledging broadcaster Mark (Mark Linn-Baker) , football-helmeted B.D. (Keith Szarabajka) and his girlfriend Boopsie (Laura Dean), perennial undergraduate Zonker (Albert Macklin), who talks to his potted plants, and J.J. (Kate Burton). The incorrigibly indecisive Mike would propose to J.J. if he could ever work up his courage and make time on his schedule to pop the question.

''Doonesbury'' can also claim a pair of scattershot subplots. One concerns the hostility of J.J. toward her mother, the returning Joanie (Barbara Andres). Although Joanie presided as Walden den mother, her feminist preoccupations left little time for bringing up J.J. The other subplot features Zonker's spaced-out Uncle Duke (Gary Beach), a pistol-packing Californian bent on demolishing Walden to make way for a condominium super-complex. For Duke's onslaught, designer Peter Larkin has created a literally smashing bulldozer. It is of a piece with the rest of his amusing comic-book scenery.

The entertainment is presented sketchbook fashion, with scenes frequently ending in the manner of a comic-strip panel. The exposition can be haphazard and the transitions impromptu. But everything more or less falls together for the graduation, in which the six Waldenites prepare to leave their cloister and to face the world and the critics. Meanwhile, satirist Trudeau has been firing away at such medium-range targets as Reaganism, college faddism, network newscasting, the byproducts of affluence, commencement rhetoric, and other jargon.

The ''Doonesbury'' curriculum has been pleasantly complemented by Elizabeth Swados's musical settings for the Trudeau lyrics. The score ranges from rock and calypso to tender ballad and boogie-woogie - a lively assortment of solos, duets , and ensembles. Margot Sappington's mostly antic choreography suits the mood of the satire and the needs of the musical numbers. Besides those already mentioned , the attractive cast includes Lauren Tom as Duke's Chinese Girl Friday, Reathel Bean as the network man and the voice of President Reagan, and Peter Shawn as the university provost.

A four-man offstage combo conducted by Jeff Waxman provides ample up-tempo accompaniment. ''Doonesbury'' was costumed by Patricia McGourty in the contemporary mode - undergraduate casual - and lighted by Beverly Emmons.