There’s a drawing of a large but formless bomb on the cover of the program for the new Off Broadway musical “How to Save the World and Find True Love in 90 Minutes.” There’s also, appearing nightly at New World Stages, a large but formless — well, fill in the blank yourself, and get out your barf bags. That’s not a critical opinion, merely a quote from the climactic scene of Jonathan Karp’s libretto.
Story tells of nebbish Miles Muldoon (Michael McEachran), a self-described “potato in search of a couch” who works at the U.N. gift shop. When he’s clobbered by a flying melon, Miles develops the ability to read minds. (And yes, there is a Melon Ballet.) Naturally enough, he discovers the two girls in his life both secretly want him. He also discovers that one of them, Violet Zipper by name, is harboring a terrorist. (And yes, there is a terrorist striptease.)
Within the 90 minutes promised in the title, Miles does indeed find true love and save the world from terrorists. But not from woeful musicals, alas; “How to Save the World” is playing directly across the hall from “Mimi le Duck.” These evenly matched new tuners make an especially potent pair.
Karp is a high-powered book editor, with “Seabiscuit,” “The Orchid Thief” and works by John McCain and Donald Trump on his shelf. The lyricist-librettist clearly is not giving up his day job; he has just moved from Random House to a new imprint under the Hachette banner. There’s no harm in trying a musical comedy along the way, only maybe a bit of embarrassment.
Karp’s lyrics run along the lines of “He’s the victim of a felony/He smells awfully melony/But he’s casting a powerful spell on me.” The villainous Ms. Zipper tells us, “With other guys the sex was always sweet and vanilla/It turns out all I needed was a Marxist guerrilla.” Or, as she puts it, “He’s a renegade on a crusade, he sets me off like a hand grenade.”
Composer Seth Weinstein doesn’t make an impressive debut either. The same can be said for first-time director Christopher Gattelli, whose credits include choreography chores on “Altar Boyz,” “Fame Becomes Me” and the imminent “High Fidelity.” The entire production — writing, staging, physical elements — has a collegiate air.
Cast of six professionally works its way through the evening’s questionable material. McEachran is at the center of it all, playing both hero and villain. The best that can be said is he gives a friendly and likable performance.
The one ray of sunshine comes from Anika Larsen (partnered with McEachran, Karp and Weinstein as a co-producer). Her material is no stronger than what the others are given, but she impresses with a robust voice, an offbeat comic sense and an ability to inhabit an underwritten character.
“Save the World” was originally unveiled in 2000, with productions in 2004 at both the New York Intl. Fringe Festival and New York Musical Theater Festival. Project picked up some favorable reaction along the way, culminating in this full open-ended run. Whatever charms the musical apparently possessed in 2004 are not in view at New World Stages.
Final scene includes a guest visit from Condoleezza Rice — a fellow in a wig — who mistakenly gives the terrorist a Skippy Peanut Butter jar filled with the secret vomit virus with which he intends to destroy the Western world. Hence the barf bags.
If this all sounds incredibly tasty to you, hie thee over to New World Stages.