Musical numbers: “Weird Romance,””Stop and See Me,””That’s Where We Come In, “”Feeling No Pain,””Pop! Flash!,””Amazing Penetration,”‘Eyes That Never Lie, “”Worth It,””Eyes That Never Lie” (reprise), “Finale,””My Orderly World,””Need to Know,””You Remember,””Another Woman,””Pressing Onward,””I Can Show You a Thing or Two,””A Man,””Pressing Onward” (reprise), “Someone Else Is Waiting.”
NEW YORK–The two musicals that constitute “Weird Romance” make for one of the more schizophrenic evenings available this summer and, their considerable flaws notwithstanding, one with many rewards. The shows will surely have an afterlife, on stages, one hopes, where they will be treated more artfully than they have been in this premiere outing at the WPA.
The production marks the return to the stage of composer Alan Menken, who departed several years ago for the wonderful world of Disney with his partner, the writer and director Howard Ashman, with whom he’d written “Little Shop of Horrors.””Weird Romance” finds Menken teamed with lyricist David Spencer and librettist Alan Brennert on a pair of works based on science fiction stories that couldn’t be more stylistically or emotionally disparate.
“The Girl Who Was Plugged In,” based on the story by James Tiptree Jr., is set in a future where advertising has been banned and products can be hawked only as they’re used by actors on-screen.
For reasons too convoluted to explain, P. Burke, a homeless woman (the brittle Ellen Greene), agrees to have her personality– actually, her lack of personality–transferred to Delphi, a beautiful actress (Marguerite MacIntyre, who is indeed that), for the purpose of unfettered product placement. The studio-cum-laboratory where all this takes place is run by the diabolical Isham (Jonathan Hadary, looking a lot like Jonathan Pryce as the Engineer) and his suspiciously humanistic amanuensis, Joe (William Youmans).
When Isham’s son (Sal Viviano) falls for Delphi, he’s derided by his father: “You were the perfect consumer, Paul–you fell for the package.”
P. Burke is a patented Ellen Green role; when Isham promises her a house, she wonders, “Would it have a door?” She’s a cross between Carol Burnett and Amanda Plummer; bark, you think, and she’d splinter into a million shards. Nevertheless , “Girl” is a nasty bit of business, a hard-edged (if not totally convincing or even original) vision of a commercial environment that’s even uglier than the one we’ve already got. Ice flows through its veins.
You know that “Her Pilgrim Soul,” on the other hand, is a warm sentimental wash even before the main characters start quoting Yeats. Based on the story by Brennert, it finds Hadary as a different kind of scientist, this time in the present, where his Kevin presides obsessively over a holography studio, as his frustrated wife, Carol (Jessica Molaskey), patiently waits for him to come around.
A fetus appears in the studio, and it quickly transforms into Ellen Greene, looking this time like a Gibson Girl. Over a few days, she grows into womanhood before Kevin’s eyes, as he and his charming and suspiciously humanistic assistant (Daniel Burstein) set about unraveling her mystery. For all the holographic mumbo jumbo, “Pilgrim” is a conventional tale of a man who learns about love from the right woman and can finally get on with his life.
Well, it’s a nice conventional tale, and it works beautifully because a moving story unfolds and all of the people in it are likable.
But in addition to quoting Yeats, “Pilgrim” rather shamelessly quotes Stephen Sondheim, particularly “Sunday in the Park With George.” Not only are there an almost unseemly number of musical echoes, but the show’s big number, “Pressing Onward,” is a ringer for “Sunday’s” anthem, “Move On.” Too close for comfort.
“Weird Romance” has been exceptionally well orchestrated by Douglas Besterman , for a small band led by Kathy Sommer. The casting is also appealing, with Viviano nearly stealing theshow in “Pilgrim” as a romantic pop singer.
But Edward T. Gianfranceso’s physical production is uncharacteristically pedestrian, and Michael Krass has outfitted the company in some of the ugliest and most unflattering costumes imaginable. Worse, Barry Harman’s staging lacks energy, imagination, even a rudimentary sense of blocking.
“Weird Romance” deserves a second look from a fresher team.