If you’re aiming to have a swell party, it’s best to have a smart theme, appealing people and tasty goodies — all of which are lacking in the nervy, nasty and not-very-much-fun new musical “Party Come Here,” premiering at the Williamstown Theater Festival.
The guest list for the production seems promising: performers Hunter Foster, Malcolm Gets, Kaitlin Hopkins and Kate Reinders; a talented composer (David Kirshenbaum); and a hot helmer fresh from spinning unlikely source material into theatrical gold (Christopher Ashley, who staged Broadway’s “Xanadu”).
But “Party Come Here” is an unlikable, schizophrenic mess. Book writer Daniel Goldfarb (“Modern Orthodox”) creates two disjointed, dispiriting storylines in a production that strains to be bright and funny but is neither.
Story centers on nebbishy Jack (Foster) who, somewhat improbably, is about to marry beautiful, Ayn Rand-loving Kate (Reinders). She pulls out of the wedding before the final pronouncement, not because she suddenly realizes she has nothing in common with her almost-mate but rather because she feels compelled to fly down to Rio to meet his father (Adam Heller), who abandoned the family years ago.
Once there Kate is immediately attracted to his gilt-encrusted, guilt-free life, which he shares with his Brazilian trophy wife, Volere (Chauntee Schuler).
When Volere and Jack discover dad and his future daughter-in-law in flagrante delicto, Volere summons help from Jesus — as well as Jack’s dry, self-obsessed Mom (Hopkins), who jets down from New York. The crisis also sends Jack back to the caves of Rio, where he had previously met (don’t ask) a hermit named Orlando (Gets), a 500-year-old Jew hiding from what he views as an anti-Semitic world.
The confusing and uncomfortable sense of the show is reflected in a song whose refrain goes “Everybody hates the Jews.” Is it satire, sincere or just a misguided exercise in bad taste as it puckishly recounts the history of persecution through the ages (with a solemn pause when it comes to the Holocaust before picking up the tempo again).
There’s occasional talk of the search for faith, magic and identity, but story, song and characters rarely come together to decide which tale to tell, what tone to take and what the show is all about.
Despite its cross-cultural nature, the evocation of Brazil remains painfully limited, stereotypical and smartass — and Jews don’t come off much better.
Kirshenbaum has a deft way with a tune, but his lyrical efforts are often spotty. There are a few isolated musical bright spots, such as “Volere’s Prayer,” an amusing duet of the devout and the detached, as well as “That’s What I Want,” Kate’s wicked song about the joys of selfishness. (Think Glinda, but without the fun.) There are some sweet melodies, too, but amid the smarm, they just don’t seem right.
Thanks to their surefire chops, Foster and Hopkins acquit themselves best. Gets forges gamely ahead in a role that is part fable, part shtick. Heller and Reinders are trapped as scuz and slut, respectively, while Schuler is a beauty but lacks the charisma, comic skills or vocal oomph to steal the show — something the audience is aching for someone, anyone to do.
Production values are spare, but the three-piece combo under musical director Vadim Feichtner and orchestrator Lynne Shankel are topnotch. Dan Knechtges’ choreography amounts to familiar Latin moves during set changes, led by a chorus quartet pretending there’s something onstage to party about. If only.