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A CurtainUp Review
10 Million Miles
By Elyse Sommer
In the case of 10 Million Miles that proven talent includes: good to look at and listen to Matthew Morrison (Hairspray and Light in the Piazza) as the romantic lead. . . direction by Michael Mayer, who steered Spring Awakening from the Atlantic Theater to Broadway super success. . . a book by playwright Keith Bunin, who first won my admiration with his intriguing The Credeaux Canvas, (The Credeaux Canvas Review) that's built around songs by the popular singer-songwriter Patty Griffin.
Unlike Spring Awakening, Grey Gardens and the headed for Broadway In the Heights, all with original scores, this new show's music is, with just a couple of exceptions, from Griffin's extensive song catalog. So, yes, it's part of that much maligned (mostly with good cause) genre, the jukebox musical. But hold on. There's the terrific Jersey Boys to prove that this need not be a bad thing.
Add to my upbeat expectations, the fact that I'm fond of small, intimate musicals and like the twangy sound and storytelling aspects of country music. Unlike some critics, I was charmed by a country-western two-hander, Floyd and Clea Under a Western Sky, which last year made an all too brief appearance at Playwrights Horizon. ( Floyd and Clea Review).
With so much potential in place, it's sad to report that 10 Million Miles fell at least nine million miles short of my expectations. Sure, Bunin has written a heartfelt, workable story that sends Duane and Molly, two mixed-up young adults (Matthew Morrison and Irene Molloy—the former fully living up to my expections in terms of acting and singing; Molloy far less dynamic) in and out of each other's arms. While it has a nice blue collar flavor, Bunin's twist on the road trip saga is more often mundane than memorable and reminded me of the bread and butter the stories I cranked out for True Story and True Confessions as a college student.
Griffin's songs are equally heartfelt but they're not a particularly easy fit for a musical and tend to stop rather than further the story. What's more, perhaps because I'm not all that familiar with Griffin's music, these selections tend to sound too much alike and the lyrics too self-consciously poetic. Of the fifteen songs selected only a few stand out. The one most likely to make a long lasting impression is "Making Pies," touchingly sung by Mare Winningham as Molly's overworked but loving Aunt Penny — one of several expertly differentiated women characters she portrays. (Skipp Sudduth also does excellent work as various men who cross Duane and Molly's path).
Michael Mayer and his designers can't be faulted for not giving the story an atmospheric staging, its centerpiece a red pickup truck that goes round and round but never really moves (as Molly and Duane's lives have been moving in circles instead of moving forward). Interestingly, a car is also a major prop in the already mentioned, and far more original and less flawed Floyd and Clea Under a Western Sky
The excellent 6-member band is well-postioned on a specially built upstage balcony. But Mayer has missed an opportunity to take advantage of this small theater in which Row H is the last row, to let audiences hear the music without over-miking the voices. There are more subtle amplifying devices available than the ugly and distracting headmikes which certainly don't enhance the music, and, in fact, emphasize Molloy's vocal weakness. Morrison and Winningham could probably meet the challenge of singing "unplugged" What a treat that would be!
While, about half way through 10 Million Miles begins to feel like ten million hours instead of a mere hour and forty minutes, it is not a wreck on the order of Lennon or Ring of Fire. A bit of diddling with the book, especially the pat ending, and more work on song and script integration, might just give this little show a healthy life on the regional theater circuit.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide