The Roundabout Theatre Company presents The Look of Love The Songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David Music by Burt Bacharach. Lyrics by Hal David. Conceived by David Thompson, Scott Ellis, David Loud, Ann Reinking. Directed by Scott Ellis. Choreography by Ann Reinking. Music Direction and Arrangements by David Loud. Set Design by Derek McLane. Costume Design by Martin Pakledinaz. Lighting Design by Howell Binkley. Sound Design by Brian Ronan. Orchestrations by Don Sebesky. Music Coordinator John Miller. Technical Supervisor Larry Morley. Cast: Farah Alvin, Liz Callaway, Kevin Ceballo, Nikki Renee Daniels, Jonathan Dokuchitz, Eugene Fleming, Capthia Jenkins, Janine LaManna, Shannon Lewis, Rachelle Rak, Desmond Richardson, Allyson Turner, Eric Jordan Young.
Unlike a number of musicals that have hit New York stages in recent years, The Look of Love doesn't try to use the pre-existing songs of which it's composed to tell a story. All it tries to do is entertain. And at that it fails pretty miserably.
This isn't to say that enthusiasts of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David catalog shouldn't hightail it to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. With 29 songs (a number of which are quite famous) from the esteemed pop songwriting team, everyone is likely to find at least one favorite performed. But only those with a heavy Bacharach/David fixation are likely to find that song remaining a favorite when the show is over.
The problems crop up not because the creative team is lacking experience - it was conceived by David Thompson, Scott Ellis (who directed the show), David Loud (who provides the show's attractive arrangements and musical direction), and Ann Reinking (who choreographed), and they're dripping with theatre credits. Still, it seems like they all were never in the same room at the same time during the show's development; The Look of Love doesn't know what it wants to be.
Sometimes the show feels like Mamma Mia!, with hyperkinetic colorful lights by Howell Binkley and an industrial parking lot of a set provided by Derek McLane. Other times, as familiar songs are presented in daring new ways, it bears more than a passing resemblance to And the World Goes 'Round, the Kander and Ebb songbook show Thompson and Ellis helped shape in the early 1990s. Ann Reinking's dances recall everything about her work for Chicago except the style and the wit.
The one thing it never feels like is a hit. There's never the effortless sense of letting the material speak for itself, with the performers and creative team being the mouthpieces. The show has been poked, prodded, and pulled in every direction, trying to be all things to all people, doing everything but celebrate the work of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, which, judging from the title and the song list, was the original goal.
Numbers like "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," a big tap number for Eugene Fleming and Desmond Richardson, and "What's New Pussycat?," channeling Chicago-by-way-of-the-Cabaret-film, fall flat because they're trying to work around the material instead of with it. (Usually, at least. The frenetic yet thematically appropriate choreography to "She Likes Basketball" doesn't help that number at all.) Overall, then, the numbers work best when everyone else is working least.
Liz Callaway is frequently leading the charge here, lending her pure, soaring voice to songs like "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself," "Alfie," and "Knowing When to Leave." Callaway, the show's best performer overall, focuses on the meanings and emotions of the songs, and lets them do the work. Her moments are the most moving, the most interesting, the most theatrical, and the most likely not to be overshadowed by the flying (or rolling) chain link fences that make up the set. (She isn't flattered, though, by Martin Pakledinaz's uninspired 1960s-style costumes. But then no one in the show is.)
While Jonathan Dokuchitz seems strangely at home performing most of the material here, other performers don't come off so well, particularly a somewhat vacant Kevin Ceballo; Janine LaManna, who often comes across as a go-go girl who never gets going; and Capathia Jenkins, who most of the time tries to sound sweet and ethereal, but usually just sounds overextended. (When she is allowed to belt - which isn't often - it's a pleasure.)
A few good moments do prevent The Look of Love from being entirely dreary. The self-mocking choreography in "I Say a Little Prayer" is amusing and Shannon Lewis's jaw-droppingly sexy and sinewy dancing transcends the rather pedestrian choreography she must frequently cope with. An interesting bar scene combining "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" and "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa" is central to the second act, and one of the few times extended numbers don't get boring in this show. Musically, Jenkins, Dokuchitz, and Callaway score a triumph in a newly arranged trio overlapping "Walk on By," "A House Is Not a Home," and "One Less Bell to Answer," while pit singers Farah Alvin and Nikki Renée Daniels almost stop the show with their swanky scatting in their sole spotlit appearance.
Of course, one of the show's finest moments is its last, when the entire cast assembles onstage for one of Bacharach and David's most enduring anthems, "What the World Needs Now." They're able to lift the spirits and the heart just when they're needed most by standing and singing.
From beginning to end, The Look of Love cries out for one unifying concept. Too bad the creators didn't choose that one.