Robert S. Cohen and David Javerbaum might consider changing the name of their new musical “Suburb” to “Realtor.” Neither title is particularly catchy, but the latter would at least emphasize the show’s major asset: Alix Korey, who plays Rhoda, the multi-divorced and aging real-estate agent who would sell her sister’s first born to close a deal. Korey could get laughs reading the script for a Realtor’s infomercial, which Javerbaum’s book sometimes resembles. Too bad Rhonda is only one-fourth of what otherwise might be musical theater’s dullest quartet ever.
Rhoda, who lives and works in a place called Suburb, is trying to sell a house that belongs to Tom (Dennis Kelly), a widower whose children are grown. Stuart (James Ludwig) and Alison (Jacquelyn Piro) are the young city couple who would buy the house if they ever stopped bickering.
It’s a city-vs.-country thing. She cries, “I’ll turn into my mother” if they move to Suburb. He’s says, “It’s a great place to raise kids,” and besides, “all I’ve ever wanted is for us to grow old together.” Unexplained is how this snitty couple could last past their first bathroom renovation.
A major plot complication arrives when Tom, who builds dog houses for a hobby, takes his property off the market and decides to stay put in Suburb. This bombshell ends act one.
Act two kicks off with a musical number called “Mall.” Other songs in the show are “Mow” and “Barbecue.” Under the direction of Jennifer Uphoff Gray, the cast’s chirpiness in performing these tunes lets us know that the authors’ attitude to their subject is satiric. We might not know otherwise.
An exception is “Commute,” which is more about urban alienation than it is the Long Island Rail Road. Unfortunately, its intended profundity is compromised by a series of interior monologues that recall Paine Webber’s recent TV ad campaign.
When Cohen and Javerbaum write comic numbers, they come off as imitation Charles Strouse. When they get serious, they turn to Stephen Sondheim, of course.
Occasionally they find their own voice: “Ready or Not” is a touching duet between a young man who is about to buy his first home and an old man who is letting go of his only home. In “Handy,” Rhoda and Tom cleverly mask their sexual attraction for one another by his performing odd jobs around her house.
The pregnant Alison finally decides to move to Suburb when she watches a group of grade-school children walking to school in the aptly titled “Walkin’ to School.” Strangely, this juvenile chorus morphs into rowdy teenagers who are first cousins to those English punks who stone the baby in “Saved” over at the American Place Theater. Alison never loses her odd smile during this transformation.
But what she and Stuart love about dull, vapid, generic Suburb is never revealed. That’s OK. If they lived in my apartment building, I’d be the first to help them pack.