Part of the
9th Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival
“It’s called ‘show business,’ not ‘show art’!”
That quip, or something like it, has long been a way for money-minded realists to excuse choices in creating or presenting shows that informed if dewy-eyed observers might consider dubious. Hackneyed book? “It’s good enough!” Sloppy score? “But it sounds right!” Cloyingly unnatural, over-the-top performances? “The three leads in Gypsy just won Tonys!” Such logic truly is unassailable by any traditional means - when the only goal is to sell a show, why bother setting the bar above shin level?
Composer-lyricist-librettist Marc Castle certainly hasn’t with his new musical Love, Incorporated, the third and final show to play at the TBG Theater as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival’s Commercial Division. Castle’s abusively pleasant four-hander is awash in contemporary theatrical pop that echoes love and friendship in New York City, all wrapped in thick blankets of trendy cynicism and pop-culture references seemingly designed to engage the audience that so what the characters say and sing doesn’t have to.
Such tactics usually make for generically attractive musicals, and on the most basic level that’s true for this one as well. Castle’s show moves smoothly and smartly through the city, capturing many of the rocky and rickety aspects of romance as filtered through a world rife with impossible personal and professional expectations. If slick style were enough, Castle would have a great straight-date show on his hands.
It’s the work’s aggressive mediocrity that makes it so painfully painless as it never strives for more than forced endearments or the winking familiarity of its unspoken theme statement: “It’s called ‘heart business,’ not ‘heart art’!” Everything about Love, Incorporated is so safe, pre-approved, and brightly packaged, that you yearn to find the tiniest scratch of humanity that might reveal feelings rather than “feelings.”
But typicality so infects even the basic premise, you’re quickly forced to relinquish any such hope. Workaholic Faith (Jennifer Blood) lusts after newly divorced TV economist Casey (Jonathan Rayson), but can’t imagine what he’d ever see in her. So with the help of her friend Aura (Hollis Scarborough) and actor named Landon Bragg (Tally Sessions), Faith invests her Christmas bonus in a new company to help her win her perfect man.
Of course, this involves delirious amounts of deception: Landon “accidentally” bumps into Casey at a bar and instantly wins his confidence; Faith has a similar “chance” meeting with Casey’s ex-wife; reconnaissance leads Faith to masquerade as Casey’s ideal blonde, Humphrey Bogart-loving, selfless humanitarian; and everyone is implicated once the truth is discovered. Oh yes, and since Faith is just a wee bit nerdy (messy hair, thick glasses, nasal voice, the works), she needs a makeover scene to help her discover the sensual creature locked away inside.
Loaded with a Christmas chorale, a male-bonding duet at a hockey game, a female-bonding “all’s fair in love and war” song called, uh, “All’s Fair,” and vaguely Gallic and irony-free references to Casey’s beloved Casablanca (“We’ll Always Have Paris” and “A Beautiful Friendship”), the score matches the book’s originality at every step. For that extra sheen of modernity, director Igor Goldin has directed everything with a stage-spanning smirk that dissolves any doubt you’re watching anything more than a present-day fairy tale.
This even stretches to the performances, which generally share the production’s overall distrust of charm and subtlety. Rayson comes closest to fashioning a human being, his naturalistically troubled Casey rich with sympathetic overtones that highlight him as a willing casualty in the battle between the sexes. Blood and Scarborough are handicapped by outlandish voices and wigs that make it impossible to take them seriously. The smarmy Sessions is ideal as the self-satisfied Landon, but less successful as a self-satisfied French waiter, a self-satisfied TV host, and a self-satisfied Santa Claus.
All four sing exceedingly well, and put over their songs and lines with the kind of overly polished panache that is so in vogue today. For better or worse, that goes farther than it should: Like Castle and Goldin, they’re hawking themselves and the material well beyond what’s visible on the racks, spinning gold from tarnished tin. With their help, Love, Incorporated behaves like a hit - so why should show business care if it’s a tired retread in search of a heart and a soul?
Run Time: 110 minutes