We've all heard of second-act trouble, but how often does it begin before the second song in Act One?
Given that the seeds of Party Come Here's earthquake-level collapse are sown so early, it's a miracle this new musical by Daniel Goldfarb (book) and David Kirshenbaum (music and lyrics) takes as long as it does to fall completely apart. Were it not for a cast that would make any Broadway show swoon, this New York Musical Theatre Festival entry, ending its run today at the Barrow Group Theatre, would almost immediately implode.
That any bride would wait until the preacher says, "I now pronounce you husband and..." to call off her wedding because she's never met the groom's father, and that the groom wouldn't dump her flat but would actually take her to Rio to meet him, gives stretch marks to the show's credibility at the outset. But when the bride, Kate, is played by that eternally youthful, nervous-breakdown of a musical comic Kerry Butler, and when Jack, the groom, is perpetual semi-geek-turned hero Hunter Foster, you give them the benefit of the doubt.
Similar allowances must also be made for Jack's laissez-faire father Wood (Terrence Mann), Wood's young Brazilian wife of some eight years, Volere (Karen Olivo), and Liberty (the ever-hilarious Kaitlin Hopkins), the wife Wood left behind to raise Jack in America. After flighty Aynrandian Kate falls for feel-good Wood, their union is observed by both Jack and Volere: He runs off to live in a cave; she phones Liberty, who boards the next plane for Rio to straighten out all this her own way (a ski pole is involved).
These conflicts are essentially forgotten in Act Two, the majority of which could be cut entirely. (The show, despite running only two hours, feels overlong.) Other than a dynamic duet for Liberty and Volere ("Woman on a Rampage"), the second act does little but stumble around looking for laughs in all the wrong places until it climaxes in one of the most pointless chase scenes ever seen in a musical. (Director Will Frears, whose work is otherwise fine, makes it comedically worthwhile only once: A bit involving Mann and crackerjack musical director Vadim Feichtner is so priceless, it belongs in another show altogether.)
That scene is pasted together, as is so much of the show, by Kirshenbaum's bouncy songs, which might have emigrated from an American-Brazilian cruise ship revue. Numbers like "Life Is a Coconut" (Wood's philosophy of life) and "The Party Come Here" (the wild second-act opener Volere sings for no discernible reason), adroitly evoke the colorful South American setting, while the more traditionally theatrical "Making the Leap" (about Jack's cold feet) and "That's What I Want" (for the ambitious, ice-cubey Kate) solidly root the show in American musical comedy. If Kirshenbaum's score lacks the distinctiveness of his work on the musical Summer of '42, this is a fine collection of forgettable compositions.
It's the cast that makes the show memorable, and no one in this assemblage of perfectly pitched Broadway-class comedians lingers in your mind better than Fyvush Finkel. A Yiddish theatre veteran who's appeared on Broadway (Fiddler on the Roof and Café Crown) and television (Picket Fences), the 83-year-old Finkel possesses sparkling eyes that twinkle with the wonder of a youngster's theatrical debut. He may occasionally trip over his lines, and take quite a while to get on and offstage, but his manner is inherently warm and funny, his singing voice (he's given a few simple solos) remains firm, and he lends a distinguished air to a company that otherwise capitalizes on its youthful energy.
What does he do for the show's story? Good question. His character Orlando, a Jew who's hidden in a cave for nearly 500 years in fear of converting to Christianity, has a connection to the story that's at best tangential. He teaches some valuable lessons to Jack about obligation and his inborn Jewishness, and gets a bit of action himself once Goldfarb has already pulled every other imaginable story string. But Finkel's role is more functionary than functional.
Yet that you find yourself awaiting his every appearance suggests his inclusion was no mistake. His stage presence, winning attitude, and still-enviable talent are reasons enough to ignore Orlando's senselessness in the plot. Kirshenbaum and Goldfarb, however, do not yet deserve to be extended the same courtesy for their fitful Party Come Here. Perhaps in 50 years?
Party Come Here