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A CurtainUp Review


My life was flat and stale
That's when a voice divine
Sent down a sign -- for Sale!
I swear I saw a vision!
God was working on commission

-- Rhoda, the real estate broke who'll listen to your problems as long as it leads to a sale.
Remember Roger and Hart's "I'll Take Manhattan?" If Rhoda Ravetch the trumpet-voiced realtor of the New Jersey anywhere USA town of Suburb has her way, you're going to end up singing "Mow" (as in mowing a lawn that is greener "and grows with a nicer demeanor"") and "Do It Yourself" (as you wield your handyman's tools in your roomy Victorian circa 1950).

Alix Korey as the nasal-voiced, Rhoda "of the collagen lips and post-modern hips" is reason enough to see Cohen's and Javerbaum's genial combination sendup and ode to the suburban life. She elevates a character who borders on caricature to its highest comic potential. When she dons a red feather boa and vamps her way through the delightful "The Girl Next Door" she brings down the house as she did with "An Old-Fashioned Love Story" in last year's MTC production of The Wild Party (our review).

While Ms. Korey is very much the star attraction of the show, Jacquelyn Piro and James Ludwig are engaging as Allison and Stuart, the young city couple lured into Rhoda's hard-selling clutches. It is her reluctance to leave city life for "the undead land/ Of the dumb and bland/To be Mom and wife/In a sitcom life" and Stuart's eagerness for a house with a lawn that is the basis for the plot. To complicate matters, their dream house is owned by a Mr. Fix-It widower Tom (Dennis Kelly). Tom's handiness not unexpectedly wins Rhoda's heart.

The lively four-member ensemble which rounds out the cast includes Jennie Eisenhower, the granddaughter of President Nixon and great-granddaughter of President Eisenhower. The twenty-two-year old Eisenhower is a promising enough performer except for her tendency to sport a pasted on ear-to-ear grin which, given her uncanny resemblance to her mother, makes her look as if she's campaigning for one of her famous relatives. The foursome (besides Eisenhower -- Adinah Alexander, Ron Butler and James Sasser) is best in the full company numbers, like the sophisticated first act finale, "Commute", that has all eight performers on the Manhattan bound commuter train. Dressed in beige trenchcoats and hats, they sit close together but are miles apart in their musical ruminations.

Musically, Suburb is more influenced by Sondheim than Rogers and Hart. It's not sung through (hurrah!), and melodic rather than poperatic (hurrah, again!). The lyrics, even when focused on the more mundane aspects of suburban life, have enough smart lines and genuine heart to keep an overdose of blandness at bay. That said, this isn't a home run musical. The songs most focused on the dailyness of the suburbs, like the barbecue number, are also the least appealing, and the first act has some less than crisp passages. But then there are the already mentioned gems -- "The Girl Next Door" with Rhoda and three of the men and the commuter train number -- plus a hilarious routine in the Bagel shop when Tom, Stuart and Allison lypsinch as we hear Rhoda's foghorn voice.

Kris Stone's scenic design consists of a group of panels which efficiently convert from the blue skies of Suburb to occasional scenes in Alison's and Stuart's Manhattan apartment. The excellent small band is hidden behind an upstage scrim. Jan Finnell's costumes include some neat outfits for the manic Rhoda.

The show, which won the 2000 Richard Rodgers Award as best new musical in development, has one of the nicest and most informative web sites I've come across. It offers ticket buying information, background as well as a sampling of the songs -- Suburb, the Musical

Music is by Robert S. Cohen,
Lyrics by David Javerbaum and Robert S. Cohen
Book by David Javerbaum
Directed by Jennifer Uphoff Gray

Musical direction by Jeffrey R. Smith
Choreography by John Carrafa
Cast: Starring Alix Korey; with Dinah Alexander, Ron Butler, Jacquelyn Piro, James Sasser, Jennie Eisenhower, Dennis Kelly and James Ludwig.
Set Design: Kris Stone
Lighting Design: John Michael Deegan
Costume Design: Jan Finell
Orchestrations: Larry Hochman
Music Supervisor: Steven Tyler
Musicians: Jeffrey R. Smith-musical director/keyboards; Phil Chester - reeds; Dennis Christian -Bass; Ann Gershefski -Synth.; Glenn Rhiann -percussion
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including 1 intermission
York Theatre, Theatre at St. Peter's Church, Citicorp Center, 619 Lexington Ave. (at 54th St), 239-6200
2/13/01-3/25/01; opening 3/01/01.
Tickets $45-$50.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 2/28 performance

Musical Numbers
Act One;
Prologue: Directions/ Company
Mow/ Stuart, ensemble, Alison
Do It Yourself/Tom
Not Me/Alison
The Girl Next Door/Rhoda, James, Ron, Stuart
Ready Or Not/Stuart, Tom
Act Two 
Duet/Alison, Stuart
Handy/Rhoda, Tom
Walkin' to School/Ensemble
Bagel-Shop Quartet/Ensemble
Trio of Four/Tom Stuart, Alison
Everything Must Go/Ensemble
Someday/Alison, Stuart, Tom, Rhoda

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