The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Sundance Theatre’s production of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” is a unique theatrical experience, using little more than music and singing to create a wrenching love story full of powerful emotion.

Set on a mostly bare stage, and using almost no props, “Cherbourg” tells of young Genevieve (Britani Bateman), a French gal in 1957 who is in love with hunky auto mechanic Guy (T.J. Young). Her mom (Maureen McGovern) (yes, THAT Maureen McGovern) disapproves, however, and when Guy goes off to war, she hides his letters to Genevieve from her in the hopes she’ll get over him and marry Roland Cassard (David Raphael D’Agostini), a diamond-encrusted slickster who may or may not have good motives, but who definitely has money.

Get over Guy she does, and marry Roland she does, thus setting up a heart-breaking finale that saddens the audience without really depressing it, fortunately.

The show is based on the acclaimed 1964 French film, which was also entirely sung. At the request of the filmmaker, however, the stage version is not a full production in the traditional sense. It is meant to be a “concert performance.” This means minimal sets, props and costumes (though the costumes here are gorgeous, solid colors, designed by James Scott). There is movement and acting and some dancing, but it’s not as theatrical as a full-fledged musical.

Oddly, leaving out the normal musical trappings makes this piece even more intriguing. It’s not your standard “Seven Brides for Oklahoma’s Technicolor South Pacific” — fitting, because the plot and musical structure is entirely different from traditional musicals anyway.

This is a jazz opera, mostly, with some haunting melodies by Michel Legrand and engaging lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and Norman Gimbel. Every part is well-sung by the very talented cast.

It is somewhat unfortunate that Guy is called to military service for two years — the length of an LDS mission — and that he keeps asking Genevieve to “wait for me.” That coincidence causes a few audience chuckles in places where they should be melting at the fact that the couple’s love is being torn asunder.

Young and Bateman, both products of BYU (as their names might suggest), have tremendous chemistry as a romantic couple. Their love, and eventually their heartbreak, are palpable, especially in Young’s passionate performance, as he takes center stage in the second act.

This play has not been performed professionally for 20 years, and it’s not likely to come back again soon. See this one while you have the chance.

The big headliner for this show was Maureen McGovern, whom you will no doubt recall as being that woman whose name you can never remember who sang that song back in the '70s. I interviewed her over the phone prior to this show's opening, and she was perfectly cordial and kind, despite the fact that I had no idea what to ask her about and had only slept about four hours before calling her at 9 a.m.