Megan Mullally, who supplies most of the laughs on NBC's "Will and Grace," possesses a phenomenal vocal ability. The woman can flat-out sing. Why she decided to showcase this amazing talent within this overwrought, overproduced event billed as a "multimedia performance-art-musical" is incomprehensible. In essence, Mullally takes about a dozen or so songs and turns each into an exquisite tone poem. All the paraphernalia and self-conscious angst surrounding the music is just nonsense.

Megan Mullally, who supplies most of the laughs on NBC’s “Will and Grace,” possesses a phenomenal vocal ability. The woman can flat-out sing. Why she decided to showcase this amazing talent within this overwrought, overproduced event billed as a “multimedia performance-art-musical” is incomprehensible. In essence, Mullally takes about a dozen or so songs and turns each into an exquisite tone poem. All the paraphernalia and self-conscious angst surrounding the music is just nonsense.

The Coast Playhouse has been converted into what appears to be the long-deserted backstage area of a Victorian-era theater. As the lights dim, the silence is broken by the sound of biker-clad Mullally and her three similarly attired musicians breaking into the theater with a crow bar. After a bit of willful destruction and Mullally’s simulated fellatio servicing of her guitarist, the group gets down to the business of making music. Unfortunately, the performance art shtick, which includes tedious repetition of video and audio themes, becomes the center of focus rather than the songs.

That is too bad because when she is in song, Mullally’s hauntingly musical voice blazes right to the heart of a gloriously eclectic mix of tunes that focus on the inherent emotional insecurity that manifests when one human being strives to love another. She is a woebegone little waif hoping to be rescued in the Rodgers & Hart Depression-era classic, “10 Cents a Dance.” Rocking nonchalantly on a rope ladder, she strikes a perfect balance between acceptance and bemusement as she contemplates the end of a love affair in Jobim’s “How Insensitive.”

Mullally invests equal insight into such love’s-labor-lost odes as Randy Newman’s “Marie,” John Prine’s “Far From Me,” Tom Wait’s “Ruby’s Arms” and the Roy Turk/Lou Handman ballad, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”

In an evening of musical highlights, three numbers stand out. Mullally turns the otherwise tender Jack Segal/Evelyn Danzig folk ballad “Scarlet Ribbons” into a bitter, personal indictment of a parent who cannot provide for her child. She wreaks havoc over a former lover in “It Was Never You” (Maxwell Anderson & Kurt Weill), and exudes a seething mix of love and hatred in the joyless Brecht-Weill “Surabaya Johnny.”

The trio of Greg Kuehn (keyboards), Stuart Mathis (guitars) and Joseph Berardi (drums) provides adroit, malleable accompaniment to all the musical numbers. They are much less successful when being incorporated into Mullaly’s misguided performance art side pieces.

Sweetheart

Coast Playhouse; 99 seats; $25 top

Production

Sweetheart Prods. presents a multi-media, one-person performance art musical in one act, conceived, directed and performed by Megan Mullally; musical director-keyboardist, Greg Kuehn; guitars, Stuart Mathis; drums, Joseph Barardi. Frier McCollister, associate producer. Scenic design, Peter Gurski; lighting design, George Barker; sound design, John Clemens; costume design, L'wren Scott; video, Clemens, Marc Forster, Steffi Schneider, Dominique Faix, Paul Morzella, Pam Arnot. Opened and reviewed Oct. 23, 1999; runs until Dec. 4. Running time: 1 HOUR.
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