It is somewhat unfair to compare the not-for-profit York Theater’s new Off Broadway musical “Falling for Eve” — with book by “Memphis” Tony winner Joe DiPietro — to a big budget Broadway affair of 1966. But musical theater has a long memory, especially when the earlier show is Bock and Harnick’s one-acter “The Diary of Adam and Eve,” the first third of “The Apple Tree,” recently seen in a 2006 revival from the Roundabout. The earlier piece is a veritable Eden of musical comedy compared to the underpowered offering now on display at the York.
This is that old tale of Eden, again. But Bock and Harnick had Mark Twain’s droll “Extracts from Adam’s Diary” as a blueprint. Twain’s 1904 humor might be dated, but his satiric sensibility still works perfectly well. “Falling for Eve,” on the other hand, is based on David Howard’s apparently unproduced play “Adam Alone,” which muses on what would have happened if Adam had bypassed the forbidden fruit and thus remained in Eden after Eve’s exile. Answer: Not much. (“Adam Alone” was announced in 2001 as part of a slate of “Mormon-themed” films, with Howard identified as “one of the most successful Latter-day Saint screenwriters of the last 20 years.”)
It is unknown how much of the original work has been carried over to the musical, upon which Howard serves as lyricist with music by Bret Simmons. Humor is, however, on the mild side and sometimes enigmatic. There is no serpent in this Eden, but two Gods — one male (and white), one female (and black). There are two angels, too, who want to eat the apple so they can leave Paradise and get married. Show gets off to a lousy start, with a smarmy, Vegas-type God singing “God, It’s Good to Be Me.” (“When you look at this genesis it’s hard to miss my immaculacy.”) A later song goes, and this is an exact quote, “apple, apple, apple, apple, apple, apple, apple, apple, apple, apple, apple, apple, apple, apple.”
Adam comes on without even a fig leaf, although quickly cloaked before he turns ’round. (Eve is already costumed at creation.) This show’s Adam is its prime asset: Jose Llana, who provided a strong voice and an energetic presence to “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “Flower Drum Song,” “The King and I” and other recent entertainments, does so here with material that is far less promising. He also makes something out of two of the Simmons/Howard songs, “There’s a Space Next to Me” (a quartet he leads) and “Eve.” Krystal Joy Brown, as Eve, and the others do the best they can under the circumstances.
Set designer Beowulf Boritt fills the small space in his customarily engaging manner. The York auditorium is dressed with eight whimsical fixtures each consisting of twenty-six water bottles emanating from basketball-sized white globes. It’s a bad sign, alas, when theatergoers have time to count the water bottles.