Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Broadway Musical Roundup: Cloudy Connick & Other Mishaps

Bonnie and Clyde
Starring Laura Osnes, Jeremy Jordan
Book by Ivan Menchell; lyrics by Don Black
Music by Frank Wildhorn; directed by Jeff Calhoun
Previews began November 4, 2011; opened December 1; closes December 30
Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street, New York, NY

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
Starring Harry Connick, Jr., David Turner, Jessie Mueller
Book by Peter Parnell; lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Burton Lane; directed by Michael Mayer
Previews began November 12, 2011; opened December 11
St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street, New York, NY

Lysistrata Jones
Starring Patti Murin, Josh Segarra, Jason Tam, Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Liz Mikel
Book by Douglas Carter Beane; music and lyrics by Lewis Flinn
Directed and choreographed by Dan Knetchges
Previews began November 12, 2011; opened December 14
Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street, New York, NY

Any month that begins with the crushingly banal off-Broadway musical Once is already in trouble, but December has further given us a trio of Broadway musicals that have little to recommend them: Bonnie and Clyde has already posted its closing notice, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever dims the wattage of Harry Connick J.’s star power and Lysistrata Jones hopes to attract a younger crowd by dumbing itself down far below anything else around.

Osnes and Jordan in Bonnie and Clyde (photo by Nathan Johnson)
Bonnie and Clyde, a confused mixture of hero worship and tragic romance, is obviously inspired by the 1967 movie, which--thanks to the resourcefulness of director Arthur Penn, screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton and stars Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway--managed to make murderous criminal behavior simultaneously appealing and appalling. The musical, however, has been brought to turgid life by Ivan Menchell, author of the perfunctory book; Don Black, writer of the sophomoric lyrics; and Frank Wildhorn, whose songs are pale country, gospel and pop imitations.

On a set that looks like the interior of a barn with wooden scrims opening and closing to reveal various action, Bonnie and Clyde is presented as true love, and we are encouraged to feel for these sexy couple of killers when they are riddled with bullets in a police ambush. Jeremy Jordan’s Clyde has a rakish charm, while the Bonnie of Laura Osnes--one of the best young leading ladies in musical theater, as Grease, South Pacific and Anything Goes proved--is even more enthralling, but both performers deserve better than this warmed-over material.

Mueller, Connick in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (photo by Paul Kolnik)
Also deserving better is Harry Connick, Jr., the unfortunate star of the misbegotten revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. In the Broadway original, the redoubtable Barbara Harris played a woman with ESP whose previous lives became the focus of her psychiatrist, who fell in love with her 18th century alter ego.

In this foolishly misguided update, Connick plays that psychiatrist, who instead falls in love with a gay florist's past life: a 40s torch singer. Instead of a tour de force performance for the leading lady--Harris played both roles in the original (as Barbra Streisand did in the 1970 movie)--there are roles for the florist and singer whom Connick’s characters falls for. While it allows for clever touches--a pas de trois in which the trio dances together, the show’s high point--it mostly drags, as no one is allowed any breathing room, glued as they are to the inscrutable plot.

Michael Mayer’s directing misfires as much as the show’s new conception, while Joanna M. Hunter’s drab choreography, Christine Jones’ cookie-cutter sets and Catherine Zuber’s pastel costumes try desperately--and fail--to perk things up. Burton Lane’s music and Alan Jay Lerner’s lyrics--supplemented by songs from their movie musical, Royal Wedding--are tuneful but rarely take flight, and the cast flounders. David Turner’s fey florist has scattered amusing moments and Jessie Mueller’s reincarnated singer has a powerhouse voice but little personality. Connick, stiff and tentative, is supposed to be mourning a dead wife, but instead seems to be regretting his decision to sign on for this train wreck.

The cast of Lysistrata Jones (photo by Joan Marcus)
But this month’s musical nadir is Lysistrata Jones, a juvenile, hopelessly silly updating of Aristophanes’ classic play about the women of Athens who withhold sex from their men until they end their warring ways.

In this unnecessary new version, Athens University cheerleaders decided to “give up giving it up” to the boys on the basketball team until they win a game. What might have worked as a middlingly funny Saturday Night Live skit has been stretched out to a monumentally inconsequential two-plus hours, complete with allusions to Aristophanes’ original and the past 30-plus years of pop culture from Toni Basil’s “Mickey” to Marvin the Martian and Kitty Dukakis to Newt Gingrich, shoehorned in without rhyme or reason.

Douglas Carter Beane’s book is crammed with jokes and puns that are rarely up to the level of his last comic musical, the mediocre Xanadu; this show’s best laugh comes when one of the gals carries a bag from The Ho Depot. Lewis Flinn’s songs nod to pop styles from boy bands like N’Sync to Rent without ever creating a decently hummable tune. The energetic young cast is pretty nondescript, even leading lady Patti Murin, who cannot make Lysistrata anything less than irritating. Where’s Xanadu’s Kerry Butler when you need her?

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