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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at MTC, City Center Stage 1


  Emily Swallow and Mark Linn-Baker/PH: Ruby Washington

How nice for playwright John Patrick Shanley that he got the chance to write a musical, with Dreamgirls composer Henry Krieger no less, and persuaded Manhattan Theatre Club to stage it. Too bad, MTC subscribers have to pay to sit through it. The upcoming film version of Shanley's Doubt may win Oscars, but Romantic Poetry deserves a Razzle for worst musical of the year.

Shanley seems to be trying to revert to Moonstruck mode, with regular-guy characters talking-and-singing-in New York accents. Unfortunately, Romantic Poetry has none of that movie's charm. It's as schmaltzy and tacky as the setting of its opening scene: the Skyway to Venus Motor Lodge. That's where we meet newlyweds Fred ( Ivan Hernandez) and Connie ( Emily Swallow). Their wedded bliss doesn't last long, particularly when Fred learns that Connie is from "that unholy hole" Woodmere, Long Island, one of the Five Towns. Apparently, his aunt Imogene told him to beware the spawn of the Five Towns, and every time someone mentions them there's a foreboding crash of thunder.

Shanley's lyrics aren't any funnier than that running joke. "Honey don't hit me, you've already bit me," Fred warbles in one of many unmemorable songs. Krieger's melodies are pleasant enough, but they all blend together. While the cast does its best to inject some life into the tunes, they only occasionally succeed. Even the talented Patina Renea Miller ( a standout in the Central Park revival of Hair) can't save Shanley and Krieger's drab ditties. She plays a wedding planner who at last finds romance of her own with the caterer Frankie ( Jerry Dixon). The other two characters, Carl ( Mark Linn Baker) and Red ( Jeb Brown), turn out to be Connie's exes. They're meant to provide comic relief while complicating the plot, since they threaten Connie's latest marriage.

Instead of laughing at Linn-Baker and Brown, however, the audience is likely to feel sorry that these veterans are stuck trying to milk a few laughs in such a dim-witted show. None of the actors comes off well, though Miller and Dixon complement each other nicely during their duets.

Shanley can't blame anyone else for spoiling his musical mishmash since he directed it himself. Devanand Janki contributed "musical staging," which consists of a few modest dance steps. Equally modest is the puny chandelier that hangs in the honeymoon suite designed by David Korins. The undersize fixture symbolizes the miniscule pleasures to be found in Romantic Poetry. Following in the uninspired footsteps of To Be or Not to be, this misbegotten musical may have MTC audiences annulling their subscriptions.


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