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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
A CATERED AFFAIR
at the Walter Kerr

AN EMPTY FEELING
By Mervyn Rothstein

  Scene from A Catered Affair/PH: Jim Cox

Sadly, A Catered Affair, the new, small-scale musical at the Walter Kerr Theater, offers a buffet with only a few appealing choices. You can savor delicious performances by Faith Prince, Tom Wopat and Leslie Kritzer, a mostly sweet book by Harvey Fierstein and an atmospheric set by David Gallo. But other major ingredients - John Bucchino's bland, flavorless and instantly forgettable music, John Doyle's tepid direction and Fierstein's own misguided performance - well, they shouldn't have found their way on to the menu.

A Catered Affair is based on a 1956 movie, The Catered Affair, that had a screenplay by Gore Vidal based on a 1953 teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky. It featured a surprisingly strong and unusual set of performers. Bette Davis, not exactly cast to type, portrayed a working-class wife in 1950s Bronx. Ernest Borgnine, who had recently won an Oscar for Chayefsky's Marty, was her cabdriver husband. The simple plot: they battle over a decision whether to use their hard-earned savings to buy a taxi or give a wedding reception for their daughter, played by Debbie Reynolds.

In Fierstein's version, the Irish-American couple's soldier son has been killed in Korea the fight is whether to use their savings, and the bereavement money they receive from the government, to buy that catered affair or an increased share in a taxi.

Prince, one of the finest musical performers on Broadway, is subtle, moving and nearly perfect as the downtrodden, defeated wife, who sees a fancy wedding as a way to make up for the fact that she has basically shown no interest in her daughter's life. Like Davis, she has been cast against type - in her case, it's a total reversal from her trademark zaniness (see Guys and Dolls and Bells Are Ringing), and she handles the change with a convincing ease.

Wopat, best known for Annie Get Your Gun, 42nd Street and Glengarry Glen Ross, is suitably hard and uncaring, at least on the surface, as the distant and miserly husband, eager for the taxi and unwilling to spend his hard-earned savings. Kritzer (Legally Blonde, Hairspray) is gentle, charming and appealing as the daughter, who prefers a City Hall-style wedding with only the immediate family yet is temporarily enchanted by the pleasures of a white gown.

But - and it's a plateful of buts: Fierstein's otherwise literate and intelligent book has a fatal error. There's an uncle living with the family, played in the movie by Barry Fitzgerald as a drunken old man. Fierstein decided to take on the role himself, and to do so he morphed the character into a gay confirmed bachelor who has dropped his longtime partner because the partner wants a closer relationship. And Fierstein has at times given the uncle modern shtick and campy dialogue, so he essentially turns into Harvey himself. It's hard to believe that confirmed bachelors in 1950s Bronx could be openly - even somewhat openly - homosexual. Fierstein's contemporary gay attitude feels so jarring, so completely inappropriate - his presence lifts us totally out of time and place, character and mood. Harvey has won four Tonys, as actor, playwright and librettist. He should know better.

Most, or worst, of all, is the music. Bucchino, a pop composer and Broadway newcomer, has given us tunes so nondescript and colorless that at the end of the evening, it's hard to remember that you've actually seen a musical. His pop songs, we are told, have been recorded and performed by the likes of Judy Collins, Barbara Cook, Michael Feinstein, Art Garfunkel, Patti LuPone and Audra MacDonald. It's doubtful they'll want to record anything from A Catered Affair.

The direction b

 


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