If "Hey, Morgan" is merely a theatrical amuse bouche, that could explain why it's virtually impossible to leave the Black Dahlia without a big grin on your face.
Unveilings are exciting. The mostly unheralded cast and creatives of “Hey, Morgan!,” an hour-long song cycle on the life choices of a maiden from “the tony hills of Brentwood,” all seem poised to break out and dazzle. Sure, the piece is wispy, but like great meals, major careers always need a distinctive starter. If “Hey, Morgan” is merely a theatrical amuse bouche, that could explain why it’s virtually impossible to leave the Black Dahlia without a big grin on your face.As perkily incarnated by Martha Marion, Morgan Farkas is a cute wannabe with a knack for impulsive choices blowing up on her. Her black cloud emerges as early as Camp Echo, where she allows the wrong boy finger access (yep, the show goes there). It’s still hovering in her early 30s, when true love Joe (Adam Shapiro) makes a moister connection with Internet babe Jackie Levine (Meagan English) than any true love ought to do. Another pervasive theme is Morgan’s Jewishness, mourned in the bumpy nose she gets repaired at 13, and motivating the even bumpier campaign to bag aforementioned Joseph Howard Levy, screenwriter and seducer manque. The score by Matthew Fogel, Isaac Laskin and David Richman more or less follows Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” playbook, in which lush melodies express genuine emotion that is suddenly undercut by a stroke of irony or snark. Thus, the catchy title number keeps stopping to congratulate Morgan for not flashing strange guys in South Beach on spring break. There’s carping room. A string of local place names – the Santa Monica Soup Kitchen, Jerry’s Deli, lunch at the Grove – seems geared solely to rev up a hometown crowd. Specifics can lead to universals, but sometimes specifics just leave a show mired in specifics. No traction is gained by having Laskin, a fine omniscient narrator, claim to be a former roommate. And the satire never cuts very deep, as when CAA trainee Morgan becomes the victim of routine horrible-boss bullying. (Making Bryan Lourd the only real-life figure named and lambasted also seems a miscalculation, not least should anyone involved want to do business with him someday.) But even when the sentiments are stock, their musical expression keeps lifting us to a place very like bliss. The sensational pop-rock tunes are rip-snortingly performed by Richman and his other four band members, five if you count onstage guitarist Laskin. Wit and heart rule the lyrics in equal measure. A battle between postgraduate daughter and long-suffering parents hinges on a double meaning of “Clueless” (the mode and the movie). In the showpiece, Joe and Jackie let their online lust rip in counterpoint to heartbroken Morgan wishing she could find romance on “The Bachelorette.” And there’s no gainsaying the cast’s unflagging appeal as they’re surefootedly moved around by helmer Matt Shakman and choreographer Courtney Miller Jr. Shapiro and English prove accomplished shape-shifters, while an always-winning Marion subtly suggests the maturing of a decent human being, physically and emotionally, over the course of 50 years. That human being is deliberately dramatized as nobody special. But if as the show’s anthem proclaims, “Whether you’re Michelle Obama/Or selling tickets at the Cinerama” we all have a story to tell, then Morgan’s is as worthy of the telling as any. And more toe-tapping than most.