Review: ‘Five Course Love’

The curse of every brilliant idea is the necessity for its brilliant execution. Gregg Coffin's bright idea for "Five Course Love" was to set five revue sketches in five different restaurants and take his comic themes and musical cues from their distinctive ethnic cuisines. Everyone works hard to be inventive, but they can't supply what Coffin really needs -- a collaborator.

The curse of every brilliant idea is the necessity for its brilliant execution. Gregg Coffin’s bright idea for “Five Course Love” was to set five revue sketches in five different restaurants and take his comic themes and musical cues from their distinctive ethnic cuisines. But the lyricist-composer-librettist falls short on execution, settling for easy caricature and obvious jokes, while expecting too much from his director and cast. Everyone works hard to be inventive, but they can’t supply what Coffin really needs — a collaborator.

Playing off the notion that people equate restaurants with romance, Coffin sends his amorous couples to atmospheric eateries where everything that could go wrong on a date does.

At a rib place called Dean’s Old-Fashioned All-American Down-Home Bar-B-Que Texas Eats, a lonely guy loses the gorgeous gal he meets on a blind date when she realizes the fixup was a mixup.

At Italian hideaway La Trattorio Pericolo, a cheating wife and her scheming lover run afoul of her mobster husband.

At a German brauhaus called Der Schlupfwinkel Speiseplatz, a fun-loving sadist and his dominatrix mistress are drawn into an uncomfortable sexual alliance when his male lover shows up.

At a Mexican joint called Ernesto’s Cantina, a romantic caballero loses his true love to the restaurant owner.

And finally, at the Star-Lite Diner, a dim-witted hometown rebel is too dumb to see his own true love right under his nose.

The concept of the show isn’t bad, but every scene turns on the same gimmicks: costumes that make broad fun of national dress; songs that satirize national music traditions; and an acting style that stereotypes national lifestyles.

To be sure, the sheer flamboyance of such outrageous caricature does guarantee some laughs. But Coffin doesn’t do anything particularly clever, daring or unexpected with the material. The Italians are going to be operatic, the Germans are doomed to be cast as sadists and the Mexicans are sure to be bandits, with none of them departing from type to make us rethink our own prejudices.

While the game cast has energy and talent to burn, they can’t rewrite lame lyrics or find much originality in their predictable characters. Actually, Jeff Gurner (“The Lion King”), John Bolton (“Spamalot”) and especially Heather Ayers (“Forbidden Broadway”) do manage to inject some zany business into the proceedings, which Emma Griffin directs with more energy than imagination.

Five Course Love

Minetta Lane Theater; 399 seats; $65 top

Production

A Geva Theater Center and Five Course Love Company presentation of a musical in one act with book, music and lyrics by Gregg Coffin. Directed by Emma Griffin. Music direction, Fred Tessler. Choreography, Mindy Cooper.

Creative

Sets and costumes, G.W. Mercier; lighting, Mark Barton; sound, Robert Kaplowitz; hair & wigs, Bettie O. Rogers; dramaturg, Marge Betley; orchestrations & arrangements, David Labman; production stage manager, Martha Donaldson. Opened Oct. 16, 2005. Reviewed Oct. 10. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast

Barbie, Sofia, Gretchen, Rosalinda, Kitty - Heather Ayers Matt, Gino, Klaus, Guillermo, Clutch - John Bolton Dean, Carlo, Heimlich, Ernesto, Pops - Jeff Gurner
With: Erin Maguire, Billy Sharpe
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