Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
The Most Beautiful Room in New York
Centering around prospects for a restaurant called The Table set on 18th Street in New York City's Union Square, the story finds David (Matt Bogart), something of a dreamer, finally realizing his hopes. He and his practical wife Claire (Anastasia Barzee), together for 20 years, have a sweet place for customers featuring fresh vegetables and inviting atmosphere. She is the money person of the couple but both are threatened when their leasing fee is dramatically elevated. David seeks out Sergio (Constantine Maroulis), a former close friend who is now scaling entrepreneurial heights. The responsive Sergio thinks creating a chain of eateries will become a fast financial ticket.
Gopnik weaves in a few subplots and one involves the Carlo's Anarchist Pizza site which is set in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where David grew up. Carlo (Mark Nelson), a lovable, earnest, aging wannabe revolutionary, is making a go of it. (Gopnik provides him with a precious one-liner most relevant to recent electoral politics in this country.) Carlo's appealing daughter Anna (Krystina Alabado) and Bix (Tyler Jones), David and Claire's coming-of-age son, cannot resist a mutual attraction.
There's much more to tell. The relationship, for example, between Phoebe (Darlesia Cearcy) and Gloria (Danielle Ferland) intrigues. To be honest, the characters are recognizable and the plotting, too, is far from radically innovative. Most praiseworthy are the quality of delivery of tuneful and terrific music (both up tempo and ballads) by Shire; and the rewarding nature of a production which has been carefully honed.
Scenic designer Michael Yeargan, a multiple Tony Award winner (and nominated again this season for Oslo), returns to Long Wharf with a set that provides both perspective and intimate feel. His backdrop of Manhattan allows for color (bushes in the park, the sky ...) and views of city buildings, too. Christopher Akerlind's lighting shifts accordingly and flavors throughout. Stagehands move set pieces fluently and precisely.
The Most Beautiful Room in New York showcases David Shire's exquisite music and Adam Gopnik's fitting lyrics, sometimes sharp and sometimes poignant. Shire, who turns 80 in early July, is at the top of his game. The opening two numbers, "Something's Growing" and "Your Table Will Always Be Waiting," are highly energized. Maroulis (known to some through Broadway's Rock of Ages or television's "American Idol") has a strong voice and significant range. He combines with Bogart on "Take My Life" and with Barzee on the winning "Doo Wop Motel" during the first act. Second act highlights include Maroulis and Barzee on "And Then I'll Go," and Bogart and Barzee with the imaginatively staged "See Claire/I Hear David." The loveliest musical moments of the evening, perhaps, find youthful actors Tyler Jones (as Bix) and Krystina Alabado, playing Anna, harmonizing on "What Do We Do Now?" It surely is not disrespectful to call this adorable.
Matt Bogart, as leading man David, apparently joined this cast late during the rehearsal period. It feels, remarkably, that he has been part of the process forever. This is not an especially small production while, within the confines of Long Wharf, it is very much a close-up experience. Seven musicians, barely seen, sit far back at a corner of the stage. The musical team should be noted, by name: John Carrafa provides choreography, John McDaniel direction, supervision, additional arrangements, and Jonathan Tunick the orchestration.
In all, the obvious: it's a New York show and it would be surprising if it does not land, sometime, someplace in Manhattan. The Most Beautiful Room in New York, warmly familiar, is also sensitive and executed with attention to detail. The production will only get better during the course of the current run.
The Most Beautiful Room in New York continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut through May 28th. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit longwharf.org.