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A CurtainUp Review

The Thing About Men

South Side Cafe in the Theater District

Can this be true?
Can she be as unfaitful as you

---a refrain from the man-woman chorus when Tom discovers a tell-tale hickey on the back of his wife's neck.
Lea Hocking and Mark Kudish
Lea Hocking and Mark Kudish
(Photo: Carol Rosegg )
With The Thing About Men, now officially open at the Promenade, Joe DiPietro has two relationship musicals running in prime Off-Broadway locations. Whenever sales flag a bit for his singles show, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, a promotion such as relationship therapists interacting with audience members puts the show back on track. Whether The Thing About Men, this time about marital relationships, will achieve the same impressive seven-year track record or not is anybody's guess. It certainly has some sterling assets.

Heading this assets list is a top of the line cast that, besides the three personable main characters with terrific voices and acting skills -- husband (Marc Kudisch), wife (Leah Hocking), wife's lover ( Ron Bohmer)-- has a hilarious 2-person Greek chorus donning a dazzling array of costumes and roles (Daniel Reichard, Jennifer Simard). To lend sparkle and pizazz to the quintet of star turns, there's the snazzy staging highlighted by Elaine J. McCarthy's clever projections which substitute for a lot of scenery shifts . Unlike I Love You, this is a real book musical, not a revue and in the best current hit-making tradition, it's adapted from a movie that helped to boost the reputation of film maker Doris Dörrie and is just old enough (1985) to have something of a golden oldie panache. The farcical premise about a cuckolded husband who ends up as the cuckolder's best friend which leads to a menage à trois style happy ending is a quite serviceable idea for a musical.

Sound good? Well, it IS fun and the performances and staging make it worth seeing even though DiPietro's Americanized adaptation of the film adds up to a book with pages that often feel as if they've been put through a hole puncher before being bound. Though the cast handily fits an I Love You're Perfect, Don't Change label, the music and lyrics, while scented with occasional Sondheim touches, can't escape the whiff of the trite and banal. The performers deserve a more pungent score and less credibility stretching characters. Kudish, especially, has a baritone and comic talents that beg for something really rich and satisfying.

I can't tell you how closely this follows the plot of the film since I never saw it, but here's how it plays out in the musical: Tom (Kudisch), a forty something guy at the top of his game as an advertising man, discovers that his wife Lucy (Hocking) is being as untrue to their fifteen-year-old marriage vows as he's been (clarified by the chorus singing "Can this be true? Can she be as unfaithful as you?"). The other man is an East Village artist named Sebastian (Bohmer) who introduces himself as being " very artistic" and "happily holistic.quot; Tom counters this with "I love my suit. I love my tie" which, given the Playbill cover of a man with a tie flapping in front of the lower part of his body makes that item of clothing a metaphor for a relationship in which the lover has turned into a de-sexed breadwinner. To complicate the triangle, Sebasian has lost his roommate and with his art sales few and increasingly far between can't cover the rent of his loft. Tom, who's moved out of his suburban home, takes up the roommate slack and moves into Sebastian's pad under an assumed name. As can only happen in the movies or movie offshoots, the men become emotionally entangled and all three interested parties go through mid-life changes that affect their outlook on life and love. All ends in a tribute to the joys of domestic arrangements that are mildly unconventional but basically pledge allegiance to suburban family values.

With just a small band, well-positioned at the top of one of two iron stair cases at either side of the stage by set designer Richard Hoover, and given the size of the theater and the performers' belting power, the head mikes often seem unnecessary. In fact, the miking and direction at times encourage delivery that turns these fine singers into screamers.

As this is an ensemble piece, with everyone of the five actors good enough to make one hope someone is writing a perfect musical for them as I'm writing these words, there are times when one or the other almost steals the show. Since she gets to play the most characters, Jennifer Simard is the chief scene stealer. Her several appearances as Sebastian's fortune reading neighbor Edith are priceless, as is a scene in which she pops up from a juke box render a country music number.

Perhaps The Thing About Men is best summed up by the " I Can't Have It All" finale. It's got a lot going for it, but it's too homogenized and flawed to have it all.

Book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Music by Jimmy Roberts
Based on the film Men by Doris Dörrie.
Directed by Mark Clements.
Cast: Marc Kudisch, Ron Bohmer, Leah Hocking, Daniel Reichard, Jennifer Simard.
Set Design: Richard Hoover
Costumes: Gregory Gale
Lighting Design: Ken Billington
Sound Design: on Weston
Musical Staging: Rob Ashford
Projections: Elaine J. McCarthy
Musicians: Lynne Shankel Conductor, keyboards; Victoria Paterson, Violin; Peter Sachon, Cello, percussion;Christopher Miele, Reeds; John Miller, Music Coordinator
Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, including 1-15 minute intermission
Promenade Theatre, 2162 Broadway at 76th Street
Last of 222 performances (and 25 previews) on 2/15/04
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on performance
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Oh, What a Man/Tom, Lucy, Man & Woman
  • No Competition For me/Tom, Taxi Driver
  • Opportunity Knocking/Tom
  • Free, Easy Guy, Sebastian, Lucy
  • Take Me Into You, Lucy
  • The Greatest Friend/Sebastian, Tom
  • Downtown Bohemian Slum/Company
Act Two
  • You Will Never Get Into This Restaurant/ Maitre d'
  • Me, Too/ Sebastian, Cindy Waiter
  • One-Woman Man/Sebastian, Waiter, Tom
  • Take Me Into You (reprise)/Lucy
  • Highway of Your Heart/Country Singer
  • The Road to Lucy/Tom, Sebastian, Lucy
  • Make Me a Promise, Thomas/ Tom, Lucy
  • New, Beautiful Man/Tom, Sebastian, Stylists
  • I Can't Have It All-Finale/Company

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