Theater Review: ‘Sleepless in Seattle’

'Sleepless in Seattle' - Theater Review

The 1993 romantic comedy “Sleepless in Seattle” has been turned into a stage musical that can best be described as pointless in Pasadena. “Sleepless,” the movie, ran on the fumes of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s charm and the slight conceit that they played lovers who didn’t really meet until the movie’s final minutes. If ever there were characters who had no need to sing, they are Sam of Seattle and Annie of Baltimore, the now-unfortunate would-be lovers of “Sleepless in Seattle — the Musical,” being given its world premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse.

In the musical “Sleepless,” it’s not clearly established in the beginning that Sam (Tim Martin Gleason) and Annie (Chandra Lee Schwartz) actually live in different cities, or that Sam’s wife is dead, or why he and son Jonah (the big voiced Joe West) take up residence on a house boat, or what Annie is doing in a bumper car at an amusement park. Oh, wait a minute, it’s not a bumper car at an amusement park. That’s the scene in the movie where Annie is driving and falls in love at first listen upon hearing Sam’s voice on the radio talking about his dearly departed wife, and the radio shrink dubs him Sleepless in Seattle. It helps if you’ve seen the movie before seeing the musical, which makes seeing this musical completely superfluous.

In good musicals, characters generally break into song because the emotional stakes are so high that merely speaking the words no longer suffices. That moment never arrives in the musical “Sleepless” because Sam and Annie spend most of their stage time with a girlfriend Victoria (Katharine Leonard) and a fiance Walter (Robert Mammana) they don’t much care about. Otherwise, they’re just kind of marking time, yearning half-heartedly for somebody or something.

In “West Side Story,” the Tony character lets us know “Something’s Coming.” But that’s Bernstein and Sondheim. With “Sleepless,” songwriters Ben Toth and Sam Forman gives us an array of song titles that define the word “generic”: “We’re Doing Fine,” “Stuck Here,” “We Can Make It,” “Look at Me Now” and “Something’s Calling Me.” There’s a word nobody uses anymore to describe these tunes: “jingles.” And when a character sings “a new inning,” you know that “spinning” and “beginning” are soon to follow. “Sleepless,” however, might be the first musical to use a song titled “Rock Stars” to describe two characters in mourning.

Book writer Jeff Arch (he cowrote the “Sleepless” screenplay with Nora Ephron and David S. Ward) substitutes the film’s famous tiramisu joke with one about mango mousse, but has neglected to write to two lead characters.

Under Sheldon Epps’ direction, a few of the supporting characters — charming in the movie — come off very abrasive and unfunny here. And the chorus is so hyper to find love with the much-reprised “Out There” — four offerings! — that you just wish they’d go on Grindr and get it over with.

Speaking of which, when Sam finally goes out on a date, it incites the wicked showstopper “Getting Hot in Here.” Who knew they serve dinner in Seattle sex clubs.

Theater Review: 'Sleepless in Seattle'

A Pasadena Playhouse in association with David Shor presentation of a musical in two acts, book by Jeff Arch, music by Ben Toth, lyrics by Sam Forman.


(Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena, Calif.; 686 seats; $145)


Directed by Sheldon Epps. Choreography, Spencer Liff; sets, John Iacovelli; lighting and projections, Brian L. Gale; costumes, Kate Bergh; sound, Carl Casella; orchestrations, Michael Starobin; musical supervisor, Larry Blank; music director, David O; wigs/hair/makeup, Judi Lewin. Opened and reviewed June 2, 2013. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.


With: Tim Martin Gleason, Chandra Lee Schwartz, Todd Bounopane, Robert Mammana, Sabrina Sloan, Joe West, Sachin Bhatt, Terron Brooks, Jay Donnell, Cynthia Ferrer, Charissa Hogeland, Katharine Leonard, Teya Patt, Adam Silver, Yuka Takara, Lowe Taylor, Carter Thomas.

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  1. Marc says:

    I adore the film, so I was very much looking forward to this musical adaptation. Sadly, this lackluster remake comes across as cheesy, generic, unconvincing and dull. I did not find myself cheering on this couple to get together as I never felt I was given any reason to do so. I just wish this adaptation could have been “in” on its own joke (of romance likelihood and 90s-era references) and given a “wink wink, nudge nudge” to the audience about a love story that only happens in the movies. I’m optimistic a musical adaptation could work for this story, but it’s going to need a much better book and score to do it. Bigger would have been much better — be it in musical dance numbers, set design and songs. Unfortunately we are given a ho-hum romance that could have been oh-so-much better with the right creative team who would give it the much-needed depth, cleverness and over-the-top charm to match its over-the-top probability. There are definitely some wonderful talents involved in this production, but not enough of them to win me over, unfortunately. If this production ever hopes of making it to Broadway, it’s going to need some massive rewrites, if not an all-out “start from scratch” do-over. It’s a shame, really. I was so ready to fall in love, cry, and swim in sentimentality. None of that happened, unfortunately. But kudos for giving it a try…

  2. Jon Gurkoff says:

    Seems like this reviewer may have pre-judged this show based upon his dislike of the movie’s premise. From the bent of his review it’s likely the show had little chance with him because he seemed predisposed to not like it. I’d be interested to know if the audience had the same reaction. Most liked the movie and it’s premise……..I wonder if they liked what they saw on stage. Standing ovations and positive buzz tell me more than someone with a tainted predisposition. I will be seeing it for myself soon and will make my own judgement.

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