Boys Will Be Boys
Marry Harry, the New York Musical Theatre Festival entry from Jennifer Robbins (book), Dan Martin (music), and Michael Biello (lyrics) is set and around an unusual Manhattan eatery. Gudiccini’s serves a different cuisine every day of the week: tonight Japanese, Greek in a couple of days, Indian another night still. As you may expect, a frequent discussion point is that the restaurant just has too much on its menu. Marry Harry has much the same problem.
The closest thing to a central focus is a chef there, the soon-to-be-30 Little Harry (Robb Sapp), who conducts a class-crossing romance with his rich landlord’s daughter, Sherri (Jillian Louis). But is their problem that the poor Harry doesn’t belong with someone of her means? That he wants to do honor to his family more than he wants her? Or is it that she (or, rather, her mother, juicily played by Jane Summerhays) wants tons of kids and he doesn’t? Neither the writers nor director Kent Nicholson seem to be sure.
Nor do they know whether dad Big Harry (Philip Hoffman) is narratively just as important as his son. He receives a fair amount of stage time, but his key relationship, with his longtime, work-in squeeze Debby (Annie Golden), is so rocky that it can be torpedoed at a moment’s notice; that doesn’t exactly draw you in, either. Two additional subplots — one about Little Harry applying for work with a celebrity chef, one about Big Harry starting a biscotti business — muddy the waters further, as do too many extraneous supporting characters, including a hired hand in the kitchen, a Chinese waiter, and a flamboyant wedding planner (all played by Cameron Folmar) and the performance artist next door (Kate Rigg).
Robbins needs to clarify every character (and perhaps weed out a few), but the basics of structure and dialogue work; Martin and Biello provide a perfectly serviceable, perfectly generic musical-comedy score that stalls only during Rigg’s endless (and pointless) spots. Nicholson’s staging and Wendy Seyb’s choreography are likewise fine, if unremarkable.
Sapp endearingly, if disconnectedly, portrays Little Harry’s confusion; and though Debby doesn’t make much sense, Golden invests her with enough playful brashness that you don’t care. The real standout, however, is Louis, who sings superbly and creates a woman who’s believably buffeted between other people’s ideas of what she should do with her life without ever landing on one herself. (Her second-act song about all her troubles, “More Than Make Believe,” is far and away the score’s highlight.)
Louis movingly displays the dangers inherent in young people forgetting how to make their own choices because their parents have always done it for them. Francine and Little Harry have both lived their lives in others’ shadows, and need to assume control over their own futures. That’s the nearest Marry Harry gets to a message, though it might be more convincing if Robbins, Martin, and Biello could prove they were willing or able to control their show.
Boys Will Be Boys
There’s not a stitch new about Joe Miloscia and Kenneth Kacmar’s NYMF revue, Boys Will Be Boys — and for the most part that’s okay. This featherweight romp, which has been blithely directed and choreographed by Joe Barros, is mostly interested in having a good time, and ensures you do too as long as it doesn’t forget that.
Five men and one woman have gathered in a basement room of the American Legion Hall, Post 69, in Lodi, New Jersey, to hold a fundraiser for gay attention deficit disorder (gay-DD, for short), and they’re not afraid to give the audience what they perceive they want. The first number, titled “Our Opening,” contrasts plowing into a musical with, uh, getting to know other places, with no shortage of double-entendre references to Broadway shows. And it all spirals out from there.
Luke (Ryan Speakman), the athletic Texan, talks about his facility with “Balls” (and his myriad failures at sports); the wispy Tyler (Seph Stanek) revises a classic Little Shop of Horrors number to reflect his S&M fetish in “Somewhere Obscene”; resident show queen Bobby (Jeremy Pasha) tackles a Gypsy retrofit with “Some Gay Boys”; the iffily defined Wilson (Rance Wright) leads a paean to Viagra called “You Lift Me Up”; and sexpot Jane (Courtney Cowart) wonders why here, as she seemingly everywhere else, all the good men around her are gay.
Instead of breaking new ground, librettist-lyricist Miloscia and composer Kacmar have polished up every relic to an eye-popping sheen, so there’s not a speck of dust to be found during the show’s 80 minutes. Every number is a definite, if usually evanescent, delight, and in the gender-neutral “I Want to Thank You” they’ve even crafted a quietly charming ballad accomplished enough to have a life outside the show — a rare accomplishment at NYMF (or anywhere else) these days.
The company, which also includes onstage musical director and pianist Alex LeFevre, is roundly terrific; if pressed, I’d probably say that Wright wields the most authority and the keenest comic sense, and Speakman the most natural sense of pathos, but there are no weak links in the performances. The writing is another story: The last 15 minutes turn dark and maudlin, and introduce a credulity-crushing desperation-drenched plot twist.
Why? I can’t explain it. To that point, the show has no trouble being funny, tuneful, and, in its own unassuming way, relevant — it doesn’t need any help. If the writers give it less in the future, Boys Will Be Boys is likely to become even better. As it stands, though, it’s still pretty darn good.
2013 New York Musical Theatre Festival