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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
For going on six decades now, there has been no shortage of these tuneful, hummable, melodic, easily consumed, processed numbers. Cue the warmth; fire up the disco ball. If you were among the millions who took pleasure in — and spent money on — the likes of “I Say a Little Prayer” or “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head,” then Some Lovers, Bacharach’s new musical with lyricist/librettist Steven Sater is here to toast your cockles. If, however, it was the rocking and fatalistic bite of Sater’s Spring Awakening that drew you into the Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre where Some Lovers is having its world premiere, best turn around and exit the building before the opening strains of “Molly” kick in.
Understand, every element of Will Frears’s production is calculated to charm. The four performers in this contained little chamber piece are charismatic and in good voice and one of them is quite talented. Sater has crafted his tale of estranged lovers around O Henry’s story “The Gift of the Magi” and the spirit of the season courses through Some Lovers like a river of spa water. Set, as the musical is, around various Christmases and in New York, you can bet your eggnog there will be snow on stage. Confetti, too.
All is not cockle-warming, alas, for writers block-stuck songwriter Ben (played by Jason Danieley) who takes a Christmas Eve call from his former lover Molly (Michelle Duffy). The photo darkroom businesses she used to run are failing and she’s selling her apartment and is moving to Michigan. Molly had passed by the restaurant where the couple had their fateful first meeting many years ago. The restaurant has gone and the neighborhood has changed. Molly is calling to say goodbye. She is packing “The Gift of the Magi,” the story about love, Yuletide and sacrifices that the lovers customarily read to each other every Christmas. Or maybe she’ll trash it. Ben, obviously still firmly in possession of a torch, can’t find the right words to even keep her on the phone.
We don’t yet know why, but as this is a play about memory, in come the younger versions of Ben (Andrew Mueller) and Molly (Jenni Barber) to reenact key highlights and low points in their relationship for the edification of older and wiser B and M, and for ours. Rather didactic are these “ghosts” since they’re constantly telling their older selves “boy that was a dumb move” or words to that effect. Later the tables get turned when the senior Ben and Molly play out a key scene that their young selves never knew transpired. (This results in younger Ben socking older Ben in the gut. Talk about your unfriendly ghosts!).
Although Danieley (The Full Monty, Curtains) and Duffy (Leap of Faith, Can-Can on the West Coast) have the longer theatrical bios but the younger Ben and Molly are the more dynamically written roles. The kids love harder, feel greater desperation and dream bigger. Mueller’s Ben, for example, is legitimately conflicted between his first sight love for Molly and his compelling need to turn everything into a hit song. His willingness to use his feelings about Molly and their relationship as song fodder seems a fair compromise. Molly thinks differently. She doesn’t want Ben creeping back to his piano at 3 a.m. to bang out a melody, and she really doesn’t want a pop songstress collaborating with Ben (“The Girl who Sang My Songs”) even if it means money in the bank and personal fulfillment.
Young Molly’s motivations are a little more muddled. This is a well-bread NYU business major, clearly ambitious in love with &mdash and willing to bankroll and sacrifice for &mdash a broke piano player. So her kicking back when he starts to thrive seems majorly counterproductive. Barber, however, is twelve kinds of adorable with charisma, warmth and a lovely singing voice all in ample supply. That the character would “mature” into the arch and beaten down woman that is Duffy’s Molly is, within the context of this play at least, plenty sad.
Still, Some Lovers is a holiday musical which likely means cheer is in the offing. Whatever their ages, Molly and Ben aren’t too stuck to realize the truth or to get a glimpse of what they missed the first time around. As our foursome are pairing off and switching partners for a final dance during the finale “This Christmas,” the mood is anything but sour.
Bacharach’s music fits this manner of tale like a sharply creased tuxedo. His pop-infused songs are either relentlessly upbeat or basic in their emotional heft. It feels like an easy paycheck for someone like Sater to go from “Totally F**ked” to “Love me for an hour. Hold me like a heartache,” but an unseen eight-piece band under the musical direction of Lon Hoyt keeps everything jaunty, pop sad or festive as the case may be.
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