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A CurtainUp Review
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
The New Group's new musical stage adaptation now at the Pershing Square Signature Center's Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre has a book by Jonathan Marc Sherman Directed by Scott Elliott, and with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik (lyrics are co-written with Amanda Green), it features an attractive five-member acting ensemble and a sturdy creative team. But, unfortunately, this screen-to-stage venture doesn't levitate like the original and lacks its quirky charm.
The story, now as in the movie: Set in Southern California, it centers on two couples in their thirties. There's the middle-aged documentary filmmaker Bob Sanders (Joel Perez) and his wife Carol Sanders (Jennifer Damiano) and their married friends, the attorney Ted Henderson (Michael Zegen) and his wife Alice Henderson (Ana Nogueira). Bob and Carol are hip to the new morality, with its instant therapy, pot parties, and sexual experimentation. Ted and Alice, however, are more uptight than their friends and reluctantly buy into this New Age thinking with its touchy-feely encounter groups. But their defenses begin to melt away as Bob and Carol's pseudo-liberal ideas sound more and more intriguing to them. But are they getting in over their heads? And just what are the boundaries and rules of marriage, after all?
The film's director-writer Paul Mazursky understood that many spouses had a blindspot about marriage in the mid-twentieth century. And he managed, to help us laugh it right out into the open. While the New Group has built a reputation for smart work, their version is disappointingly lackluster. The problem mostly lies in Duncan Sheik's tame music and lyrics (co-written with Amanda Green) that are at odds with the raw emotional feel of the story.
The original movie was defined by its off-beat characters, forthright dialogue, and elegant silences. Mazursky also imbedded ambiguities throughout his script, which gave the film psychological depth and a certain mystique. In contrast to this, Sheik and Green's songs clutter the narrative and hit you over the head with their sentimentality. Just take the song"Quintet (To Vegas)"that near the end amplifies the theme of self-examination as the foursome head toward a Las Vegas nightclub. Yes, that song makes an attempt to illuminate each spouse's psyche as they respectively contemplate their own marital commitment, but it doesn't hold a candle to Burt Bacharach's tender ballad,"What the World Needs Now is Love," played at the finale of the original film.
If the melodies are so-so, the ensemble acting keeps the New Group's latest project from being a total wash-out. Jennifer Damiano inhabits Carol with a moral earnestness that is endearing. Joel Perez slips into the skin of film documentarian Bob and makes him, if not always sympathetic, a likable hipster suffering from a severe case of mid-life crisis. Michael Zegen's Ted admirably balances his attorney character's starchiness with his capacity for positive change. And Ana Nogueira's Alice is well cast as the conventional wife who's ever-so-cautiously pushing the boundaries of her own marriage. And let's not forget Suzanne Vega's Band Leader (Vega stepped into this role when Sheik bowed out). This is a chameleon character who serves as a kind of anchor for the foursome when she's not belting out a song or doing voice overs for other characters.
The production values are another plus. Derek McLane's protean set design, abetted by Jeff Croiter's lighting, takes on many contours and morphs from being the Institute at Big Sur . . . to a swanky home in Southern California . . . to the couple's favorite restaurant . . . to a posh psychiatrist office . . . to a glitzy Las Vegas hotel. Jeff Mahshie's costumes capture the ‘60s aesthetic, whether it's Alice's Mondrian dress that looks like it was plucked right off the racks of Yves Saint Laurent's signature collection or Ted's bell-bottomed striped trousers.
Director Scott Elliott, the New Group's founding artistic director, has his heart in the right place but has failed to achieve a cohesive tone. Perhaps he is just trying too hard for a nother popular period movie to morph into a Broadway hit.
Although the New Group's reimagining of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice might come up short as a musical, it still might interest fans of the film. Whats' more, the original Columbia Pictures motion picture can be rented or streamed with just a few clicks on your computer.
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Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Musical based on the Columbia Pictures motion picture directed by Paul Mazursky and written by Mazursky and Larry Tucker.
Book by Jonathan Marc Sherman
Music and Lyrics by Duncan Sheik.
Lyrics by Amanda Green
Choreography by Kelly Devine
Cast: Jennifer Damiano, Ana Nogueira, Joél Pérezk, Susazanne Vega and Michael Zegen. Directed by Scott Elliott.
Scenic Design by Derek McLane
Costume Design by Jeff Mahshie
Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter and Sound Design by Jessica Paz.
Orchestrations by Duncan Sheik.
Music Supervision, Vocal Arrangements and Additional Orchestrations by Jason Hart.
Music Coordinator is Antoine Silverman.
Stage Manager: Valerie A. Peterson
Running Time: 1 hour; 45 minutes with no intermission
The Pershing Square Signature Center.
Fom 1/16/20; opening 2/04/20; closing 3/15/20.
Tuesday through Friday at 7:30pm; Saturday at 2:00pm & 8:00pm and Sunday at 2:00pm.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan
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