Erin Kamler’s perceptive tuner “Divorce! The Musical” chronicles the dissolution of a marriage as manipulated by the dueling attorneys and a misery-loving therapist, all with self-serving agendas. Kamler’s jaundiced view of the legal profession overburdens this melodic tale of domestic woe but does not diminish the show’s sumptuous amalgam of inventive melodies and character-perfect perfs. Kudos to helmer-choreographer Rick Sparks and his immaculate staging as well as the aurally delicious vocal arrangements of music director David O.
Once scripter-composer Kamler pushes so-in-love newlyweds Penny (Lowe Taylor) and Rich (Rick Segall) through the feel-good opening scene nuptials (“Till Death Do Us Part”), she fast-forwards four years to the office of a hyperpositive Therapist (Gabrielle Wagner) whose ineffectual platitudes (“Therapy”) only underscore the couple’s basic grievances. Rich, a successful radiologist and TV consultant, wants to start a family. Penny (Lowe Taylor), a wannabe actress, is not ready to put her career ambitions on hold.
“Divorce!” wends its way through Penny and Rich’s emotional disintegration, eventually leading to the psyche-searing but musically endearing conclusion that they cannot continue in a semi-relationship (“First Attempt to Resolve It,” “Half”). As the doomed Hollywood couple, vocally gifted Taylor and former “Partridge Family” regular Segall exude such palpable emotional rapport and sexual chemistry that their subsequent vulnerability to the forces of legal disentanglement is rendered even more poignant.
At this point, the tuner is turned over to the over-the-top machinations of Rich’s blood-letting Beverly Hills attorney, Laureen (Wagner), who quickly clues Penny’s inexperienced, emotionally overwrought counselor, Lisa (Leslie Stevens), into the subtleties of mutually gouging their clients (“Lawyer Letters,” “Winners and Losers,” “Fighting Dirty”). Though Wagner and Stevens luxuriate within the personas of these relentless shysters, their abundant machinations distract from Penny and Rich’s much more interesting journey of discovery.
One highlight is Sparks’ steamy staging of the ensemble-driven “Rebound Sex,” as Penny and Rich entangle their bodies but not their emotions with too-cliched-to-be-believed loser partners (enthusiastically portrayed by Stevens and Gregory Franklin). The resulting disillusionment with superficial coitus leads the couple to yearn for the commitment they once shared (a beautifully harmonized “There Were Good Things”).
As his rapidly decreasing finances drives Rich to his “Parents’ Basement,” the production takes a much-needed comedic side journey into the traditional marital values of Rich’s parents (“We’ll Stick It Out”), played to the aged, hayseed hilt by Stevens and Franklin.
Danny Cistone’s inventive modular set pieces morph into myriad environments. Also notable are the character-perfect costumes of Denitsa Bliznakova and the complementary lights and sounds of Jeremy Pivnick and Cricket Myers, respectively.
Special praise must go to the onstage musical accompaniment of conductor-pianist David O. and his beautifully orchestrated side musicians, Anthony Fanning (cello) and Adrienne Geffen (woodwind).