Print this Page

NY Theater Reviews

Miguel Cervantes and Lina Silver/Ph: Sara Krulwich

WHAT I DID FOR...

By JESSICA BRANCH

Happiness the musical is less a musical than a musical revue. But there are bits and pieces that entertain and amuse, if not enlighten and inform.

Why is it so tempting to call this show Happiness the Musical!? Perhaps because the amiable chain of only slightly related song-and-dance numbers has more than just a hint of the kind of glitzed-up retro-pop goofiness that that hokey title suggests.

The show begins with edgier pretensions, as an assortment of New Yorkers -you know the stereotypes: a famous gay designer, a right-wing shock jock, a Latino bike messenger, a Paul Weiss associate, a doorman, et cetera-race around on a busy morning, so preoccupied with their problems that they are, alas, losing track of the moment. But not for long-in the show's most retro conceit (spoiler alert!) they all suddenly find themselves trapped on a stalled subway car because (here it comes!) they're dead. And as each tries to remember a "perfect moment" that he or she will be allowed to inhabit for the rest of eternity, we're treated to a series of musical vignettes. Although there's a throughline in which the surly subway conductor Stanley (Hunter Foster) tries to shepherd through two recalcitrant passengers, the socialite wannabe Gina (Jenny Powers) and Zack (Sebastian Argelus), the high-powered attorney who got on the train by mistake and is arguing for a do-over. Those plot strands bog down in maudlin and fairly obvious lessons The show feels like its real raison d'etre is the parade of pastiches that represent the perfect moments.

The show's directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, so it's hardly surprising that its heart and soul are in its retro musical fantasies. And however unoriginal and often sentimental the concepts may be, many of the numbers are energetically staged and engaging. Stanley and several besuited helpers stage a snappy number about business machinations, complete with ladder-driven choreography. Fred Applegate as the dignified doorman turns a schmaltzy ballpark reminiscence into a truly moving moment and Robert Petkoff and Pearl Sun are charming as they prepare for a multi-ethnic family fest in "Family Flashcards." Joanna Gleason suffers from the improbably written role of shock jock with a secret past, but manages to make the most of the acid-tongued lines it affords her. But these moments are, in the show - just that, moments. They don't add up to much - let alone to a whole of any significance - but they can entertain and amuse, if not inform and enlighten. So the real secret of Happiness may be to look at it as a revue rather than a revelation.