One of the biggest surprises of the summer isn't something you'll find onstage. Buried on the last page of the program for Insomnia, another entry in the Midtown International Theatre Festival, is the biography for librettist and composer Charles Bloom. It begins with the almost-impossible-to-believe revelation that this musical marks his "NYC production debut."
In that case, I would like to welcome Mr. Bloom and suggest that he takes the advice composer Jerry Herman wrote for Dolly Gallagher Levi and "never go away again." New York musical theatre needs a truly creative and honest voice like Bloom right now, and if Insomnia suggests he still has a bit to learn, he's definitely the type of theatre artist who needs to learn while doing. Audiences will only benefit from exposure - of any kind - to his work.
In that work, as in that of so many of the current generation of composers, there's more than a touch of Stephen Sondheim. Insomnia, which takes place over the course of a single night as a man tries to conquer his sleeping problems, often seems to be a mixture of Company's modernity and Sunday in the Park with George internal explorations, melding them into a show that, if less distinct than those that inspired it, is in its own way no less sublime or theatrical. The coruscating melodies Bloom provides for songs that alternately slither and soar, and the sheer amount of talent packed onto the WorkShop Theatre mainstage, make Insomnia a show most musical theatre lovers will want to catch while they can.
At the center of it all is Richard Todd Adams as Brad, a gay Hollywood screenwriter who has so intellectualized his life and work that he's driven himself to sleeplessness. He finally decides to face down the inner demons keeping him awake, which often manifest themselves as people he knows, and effectively exorcise them before the dawn. They include his good friends Clint (James Donegan) and Linda (Cindy Marchionda), father Jack (Charles Karel), prospective boyfriend Dan (Christopher Sloan), eccentric neighbor Sylvia (Lois Hart), and even his unconceived son Nick (Eric Millegan).
Though this type of story could easily be rendered boring, Bloom's writing is so peppy and energetic that being lulled to sleep is never seriously an option. Besides, you might miss a song, or even part of a song, of this memorably tuneful, hummable score. If the best numbers are usually the large, deceptively complex ensemble songs (like the opening number "Get Ideas" or the infectious "Listen to Me!"), even the more narrowly focused character-driven numbers make a strong impression, and all the songs constantly surprise with their clever spotting and quirky yet sensible point of view.
The songs are all expertly delivered, too. Adams must be singled out for the sheer stamina he displays in tackling this vocally and emotionally rangy role that requires he almost never leave the stage; he's more than up to the challenge, singing beautifully and acting convincingly. The other cast members border on the flawless, many getting a number of moments to shine in solos before seamlessly blending their voices in larger group numbers. Steven Capone's bedroom-inspired set, Meganne George's costumes, and Deborah Constantine's lighting help complete the picture.
For its many virtues, however, Insomnia could still do with a fair amount of polish. The lyrics often seem clever for cleverness's sake, with triple or quadruple rhymes that call attention themselves more than what they're supposed to be saying. The book scenes and characterization could do with a bit of tightening; developing a character as clever as Sylvia - the Norma Desmond of low-budget horror flicks - and not letting her live up to the hilarious comedy song ("Queen B") she's given is perhaps the most obvious example of sloppiness. And while no complaints can be made about the quality of Allison Bergman's direction, David Snyder's musical direction, or James DeForte's choreography, you never get the sense they're helping elevate the piece to its fullest potential.
Even so, the tremendous amount of love and care in Insomnia make it a winner, one of those shows you might well kick yourself for missing later. Could the production be transplanted as is onto a larger Off-Broadway stage with few ill effects? Absolutely. But while it's good now, it can be better still - Bloom deserves the time and the resources to discover the best that this show is capable of being.
And if there's any justice, he'll get that chance, allowing Insomnia a life after it concludes its MITF run. Whatever this show's fate, the New York theatre community is richer for Bloom's presence and talent, which will hopefully continue to be felt for many years to come.
Midtown International Theatre Festival