Happy millionaire. Often an oxymoron. The late rapper Biggie Smalls summed it up quite nicely, in fact — “mo’ money, mo’ problems.”
Anthony J. Drexel Biddle would heartily disagree. The title rich man in Glendale Centre Theatre’s “The Happiest Millionaire,” Biddle (Paul Michael Nieman) attacks life in the year 1916 with outlandish gusto. He prides himself on treasuring home and family every minute he possible can, intensely following his passions for alligators and boxing in whatever spare time the day allows.
Biddle spouts his enticing but reckless beliefs to anyone who stumbles by his mansion at 2104 Walnut St. in Philadelphia. He insists that fortunes are made to be spent, not hoarded or saved. But just because you’re right doesn’t mean anyone will agree.
His family are staunch supporters. Wife (Andrea Stradling) and loyal sons (Robert Altepeter, Eric Mello) stand behind every wild proclamation or prank.
Butler John Lawless (Darryl Maximilian Robinson) tolerates his demanding boss but also gets a thrill subtly undermining Biddle’s more eccentric decisions regarding the household.
Lawless was the focus of a 1967 Walt Disney musical, and his disrespectful behavior seems a bit over the top for the time period of this more sedate version, set during a contentious time on the eve of World War I. The butler clashing with the head of the household could have led to deeper issues being explored regarding capitalism and class warfare, but playwright Kyle Crichton settles for “Father of the Bride” territory.
Luckily, director Mario DiGregorio strikes a warm and pleasant tone that makes the two-hour running time fly by. It’s one of the few intermissions where the audience makes sure they’re quickly back in their seats to see how everything turns out.
The event is a simple wedding. But that has taken down much stronger fathers than this jovial millionaire, who needs to do some growing up of his own.
Biddle’s selfish style of living starts to create immense friction with an unlikely trio of females in his life. Those three females are the reason to see “The Happiest Millionaire.” They get the cleverest lines and the showiest costumes, by Angela Wood.
Brian Alexander nails a difficult character arc as Angier Duke, the intended groom of Biddle’s daughter.
And to take in the breath of fresh air that’s Nieman as Anthony J. Drexel Biddle — that booming voice and twinkle in his eye — you honestly wish he could teach every millionaire a thing or two about how to treat humanity.
James Petrillo is an actor and screenwriter from Los Angeles.
What: “The Happiest Millionaire” by Kyle Crichton
Where: Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday until June 18
Tickets: $21 to $23 with group rates available
Contact: (818) 244-5042 or visit www.glendalecentretheatre.com