A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
With a less cliche-riddled plot, more dancing, and more memorable tunes, this somewhat surreal musical subway ride might keep you from fretting over the next fare hike and make you think twice before you hold open a closing door rather than wait for another train. Unfortunately, despite a topdrawer creative team — composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie who made a big splash with Grey Gardens and the book writer and director/choreographer of Contact, a Lincoln Center super hit— I found Happiness only mildly more entertaining than my ride home on the E train.
Ruminations on mortality through a somewhat surreal lens has given us our share of highly entertaining and absorbing theatrical endeavors, including the current revival of Ionesco's Exit the King. But even with the excellent Hunter Foster as the trainman forcing the passengers rushing to their daily destinations to examine their lives by recollecting their most perfect moment comes comes off as a clunky variation of that timeworn adage about stopping to smell the roses.
Besides songs that are pleasant but mostly easier to forget than to remember and rather stingily doled out dance numbers, the show suffers from a weak book. The premise that this is a subway ride to nowhere is revealed immediately after a scene setting opening number, "Just Not Right Now," that has the nine main characters and the ensemble rushing around the stage. That's early enough into the show for my not spoiling any surprises when I tell you that this is clearly a no exit situation and for you to realize that there's not going to be an exit for you until all the characters have gone through their perfect moments and only Foster's trainman is left.
The performers (the ensemble as well as the main characters) work valiantly to make their recollections feel less like Hallmark cards pulled out of their envelopes. The character they play include a lawyer (Sebastian Arcellus too focused on making partner to have any relationships; a frustrated Bloomingdale's perfume saleslady ( Jenny Powers), an elderly woman (Phyllis Somerville) who floats out of her wheelchair to recall a World WarII USO dance; a cross-cultural couple (Robert Petkoff and Pearl Sun, both doctors-in-the making; a flamboyant interior designer and his dying partner (Fred Applegate and Ken Page); a bicycle messenger trying to keep on top of his alimony (Miguel Cervntes); and a right wing radio talk show host (Joanna Gleason).
Their thinly developed stories pick up mostly when Joanna Gleason speaks or sings (her" Road to Nirvana" with the Company is a standout). However, for the most part, you're likely to find the almost two hours it takes to empty that train seem even longer.
There's plenty to praise about Thomas Lynch's set. Its centerpiece is a sliding subway car and an aptly positioned platform for the orchestra. Donald Holder supplies the atmospheric lighting and William Ivy Long's costumes are also fine and dandy. It's too bad that the team responsible for the book, music and dancing has not managed to support the excellent production values with a more original and snappy musical.