Another harp string twangs, another stanza joins the old refrain: Here I am at a milestone/middle-aged birthday; life used to be beautiful; what went wrong? Writer-lyricist-composer-singer Amanda McBroom has traveled her “Heartbeats” almost continually since the 1990 premiere at San Diego’s Old Globe; in the Pasadena production, an energetic cast and some elaborate and tricky scenery go some distance to cover the formula-ridden book and the aching emptiness of the music.
Twenty years of marriage have locked wife Annie (McBroom) and husband Steve (George Ball) into congruent but separate worlds; he lives for Monday Night Football, she for her trips to the supermarket.
They split, they dabble in alternative possibilities, they return to a shaky reconciliation, as a second couple (Michele Maika, William Falk), representing their selves when younger, act out the way things once were.
Director Bill Castellino’s choreography creates an elegant, sinuous counterpoint between the couples; their movement is mirrored in Linda Hacker’s scenic units slithering on- and off-stage, nicely pointed in Richard Winkler’s lighting.
Loosely cohering to the slick and unsurprising story is a profusion of songs and almost-songs.
Despite a tendency to overdo the facial calisthenics, the cast generally turn this wan material into something almost identifiable as music.
McBroom herself is less successful; her troubled housewife Annie rises no higher than the kind of smiling-through-tears wisecrack that, in Soapland, might pass for bravery.
Her best-known song, 1979’s “The Rose,” achieved transfiguration as sung by Bette Midler in her movie of that name. Imported into “Heartbeats” as a final benediction, it fills the stage with more suds.