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Marcy in the Galaxy

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Donna Lynne Champlin, Jonathan Hammond, and Teri Ralston.
Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Most New Yorkers who eat out regularly (in other words, most New Yorkers) have undoubtedly found themselves waiting for the better part of forever for their server to appear. But as planting yourself in a restaurant booth, putting your life on hold while your food or your bill doesn't arrive, is one of the least interesting things you can do in the city, one would never expect this experience to form the basis of a play. To say nothing of a musical, in which dance - or even ordinary movement - is as necessary as the songs.

Enter the Connelly Theater for Marcy in the Galaxy, and the first things you'll see onstage are tables. Several, in fact, laid out in a line from stage right to stage left across Sandra Goldmark's narrow, nondescript greasy-spoon set. What, you may be asking: no spaceships, no stars? This is, unfortunately, as it should be. Nancy Shayne's moribund new musical refers not (or at least not directly) to the vast expanse of possibilities outside our own atmosphere, but the real-world Galaxy Diner (located in Hell's Kitchen, at 46th Street and Ninth Avenue).

In these circumstances, it makes some sense that sitting would be the default action of choice for almost everyone. What's less clear, however, is why these circumstances suggested a musical to either Shayne or her director, Jack Cummings III. Focusing on the no-longer-young painter Marcy (Donna Lynne Champlin), who's rooted to her pleather chair on New Year's Day and incapable of either resuming her everyday existence or paying her mounting bill, this show isn't exactly crying out to sing.

Not that that at all affects its score. The roundup of some 15 songs includes six solos in which Marcy can revel in or challenge the dreams that are equally at odds with her reality, her abilities, and her finances. (She's been painting for years, but only ever made money from office work; and ConEd just switched off her electricity.) The numbers may waver between determination and resignation, but Marcy's always strong enough to weather moments of doubt or distraction from those around her.

These unwanted influences have plenty of music of their own. There's a scene-setting ditty for the ever-patient waiter (Jonathan Hammond); gossipy babble about failed romances and faded glories for the two broads at the next table (Janet Carroll and Mary-Pat Green), who might be Marcy in another 20 years; plus reproachful plaints from Marcy's neglected twin sister Sharon (Jenny Fellner) and good-intentioned buttinski mother (Teri Ralston), who appear not in the flesh but as figments of the one part of Marcy's imagination she'd rather ignore.

Shayne wants to dissect the inertial mindset, difficult given the musical theatre's usual bent toward kineticism, but not without successful precedent. (George Furth and Stephen Sondheim's Company is perhaps the most famous example.) But even a show about doing nothing must be big enough to earn its score, and Marcy in the Galaxy frequently shrinks to nothingness beneath R. Lee Kennedy's fluorescent-like dive lighting.

While Shayne has concocted her share of attractive tunes, many of a light-Broadway-pop variety approximating Jeanine Tesori and Michael John LaChiusa's post-modernism minus the risky undercurrents, her lyrics too often stall in stuttery patterns of speech. "Keep me away from pleasing my sister," Marcy sings at one point, "I know she'd prefer if I worked full time"; "Are you the only one artistic and wise?" Sharon responds later, "Is this an ancient theory you might revise?"

Because Marcy has locked away her feelings, music doesn't easily enter her psyche. Champlin zests up Marcy with a few extra dashes of feist and spunk, but can't grow her much beyond the spiritual satisfaction of an uptight librarian on a blind date. Ralston brings a genial honesty to Peppy that almost salvages her scenes, but Peppy - like everyone else - but never convinces as someone who would need (or want) to live even partially in song.

The story, which Shayne conceived with Sex and the City alum Michael Patrick King, might work better as a regular play, where the personalities of Marcy and those orbiting her could be expanded more gradually and naturally than the musical format allows. As it is, everyone onstage seems to be rushing toward nothing in particular, relying on their director to shepherd them into the proper positions.

Cummings, to his credit, makes a few valiant attempts at injecting life into the proceedings, with moments of frantic energy that perkily punctuate the laid-back surroundings. But it's all to no avail - there's little room for get-up-and-go in a show so dependent on sit-and-stay-put.

Marcy in the Galaxy
Through April 20
Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4th Street, between Avenues A and B
Tickets online and Performance Schedule: Transport Group

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