Dear World is one strange mumbo jumbo. It's a musical soaked in political allegory and wrapped around a sweet romance, based on a play written in occupied Paris during World War II.
At a charming cafe, a prospector angrily sits down and rejects an offer of champagne, insisting on a simple glass of water.
He isn't a teetotaler. The man is trying to sniff out oil. After years of hunting the streets of Paris, he thinks he's found it beneath the Cafe de l'Alma. He quickly engages the aid of three business leaders — the presidents — who hatch a plan to demolish the building to get to the liquid riches below.
Standing in their way are the eccentric denizens of Chaillot, led by the Countess Aurelia. This madwoman (honestly, that's what she's called in the program) isn't going to let her neighborhood go without a fight.
She gets help from a pair of equally oddball ladies, a clean-cut sewer man, and Julian, a young assistant to the presidents. But after balking at bombing the cafe, he joins the forces of good. That also opens up the tale's romantic side, as he and Nina, the cafe's waitress, quickly fall in love.
In one sense, Dear World sounds like a typical, if colorful saga of misfits fighting against The Man. But Jerry Herman's songs push it over the edge. The creator of Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage Aux Folles can't help but write catchy tunes.
A company of flexible performers allows the play to spritely fly along with an abundance of life and charm.
Janet Paone, as Countess Aurelia, plays this bright role with the right amount of emotion to make us care what happens to her and her cafe.
Paone, along with Thomasina Petrus and Christina Baldwin as the Countess' batty old friends, could have easily overdosed on eccentricity. Instead, they pull it back just enough so we keep our eyes on the prize — saving the cafe and all of Paris.
They can also sing. That's important since the accompaniment is seriously stripped down, a signature of Ten Thousand Things' barebones approach.
IF YOU GO:
213 E. Fourth St., St. Paul (Thursday-Sunday)
Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis (Feb. 4-7)
Through Feb. 7; 800-838-3006