I stopped taking notes less than midway through A Catered Affair, The Old Globe Theatre's world-premiere season opener and musical ode to Broadway comic Harvey Fierstein's considerable acumen and success. By then, the tunes had pretty much set the course for the rest of the night. While their key signatures and tempos may vary, each and every one of 'em is interminably wistful and cloying, even as the lyrics demand a change of course.
It's not that this show doesn't have a substantial dramatic moment or two. It takes its cues from Fierstein's fair book, which is big on simplistic but solid subtext about longtime marital misery and youthful coming of age. But Fierstein and director John Doyle often undersell both the characters and the story, always with one of those treacly little songs at the ready. Some of the world's most overrated musicals (The Sound of Music, Paint Your Wagon) feature anemic texts that merely bridge the numbers. With A Catered Affair, it's the other way around--but the result is very much the same.
Set in the Bronx of 1953, the show features an arresting opening sequence in the persons of Janey and Ralph (Leslie Kritzer and Matt Cavenaugh, both pretty good amid their characters' chemistry and mutual loyalty). They've stunned Janey's folks as they announce their intent to marry in a simple city hall ceremony. Tension sets in when Janey's parents mull whether to throw a major-league wedding or sink their life savings into the family taxi business. Meanwhile, dad Tom (Tom Wopat) and mom Aggie (Faith Prince) stretch their relationship to dangerous levels as they ignore a key tenet--that the kids simply don't want a catered affair.
If the title sounds familiar, that's because it is. The idea is based on a 1956 teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky (I like him) and screenplay by Gore Vidal (I hate him) called The Catered Affair. Fierstein wrote in the role of gay Uncle Winston, which adds a certain thrift to the stage version. Even so, Fierstein's familiar girth and foghorn voice can't best John Bucchino's seriously substandard music and lyrics. The wind instruments are woefully weepy and command just about all the attention at just about every turn, forcing music director Constantine Kitsopoulos' hand; the words never come close to reflecting the principals' eventual sophistication about the matters at hand (to a lesser extent, that goes for Fierstein's writing and Doyle's direction). The rest of the show thus hangs by a thread, a forceful tech effort notwithstanding.
A Catered Affair will go to Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre for previews next March. It'll do decent business at first, because Fierstein's name is behind it and Broadway's making a mint these days off its branded, tourist-friendly musical fare (it's steadily approaching its first billion-dollar gate receipt season). From there, the drone of those wind instruments may drown out the New York street buzz, which had its genesis immediately after this show. One patron quietly declared that 'it's missing something,' to which my companion muttered, 'Yeah--a score.'
My companion is a very smart girl.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of Sept. 30. A Catered Affair runs through Nov. 4 at The Old Globe Theatre mainstage, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park. $62-$79. 619-23-GLOBE.
Girl next doorDr. Dusseldorf used to wet his pants every time he saw his young cancer patient Oscar, or at least that's the theory. We'll never know the upshot for sure, since Oscar died a while ago at age 10. His letters to God are the only meaningful paper trail on his life, and they reflect dreams and frustrations of far greater import than his visits with the doc. It's all there in The Old Globe's Oscar and the Pink Lady, a memory play starring American theater fixture Rosemary Harris and driven by a mawkishness that's vaguely beneath her.
Harris plays lone character Granny Pink, a retired pro wrestler who befriended Oscar as a hospital volunteer. She and director Eric Dunlop adhere fairly well to the monologue spirit, avoiding the temptation to turn this thing into a series of character sketches. And Granny has some fun tales to tell about the wrestling game and her coolest opponents. But writer Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt never really weaves Granny's memories with Oscar's aspirations--too often, it's almost as if Oscar exists to fuel Granny's story. Those letters to God are a dying child's legacy, and their reflections should spark Granny's wholesale emotional investment. Schmitt elects to let the chips fall, coloring Oscar's tragic death with a patronizing nod.Oscar and the Pink Lady runs through Nov. 4 at the Cassius Carter Centre Stage, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park. $47-$52. 619-23-GLOBE.