Musical numbers: “You Haven’t Changed a Bit,” “Crown of Love,” “One of the Guys,” “Richard’s Song,” “This Time Around,” “A Word to the Wise,” “New Car Smell,” “Two Kinds of Fire,” “2 Old 2 Get Married 2 Young,” “I’ve Done Nothing But Love You,” “It’s Got to Be Now,” “Destiny Ain’t What It Used to Be,” “Land of Tears,” “You’re Carrying My Dreams,” “If You Were Mine,” “Nights Like This,” “This Time Around.”
From “Carousel” to “Back to the Future,” American stories about traveling through time to rectify life-shattering errors have jerked countless tears and raked in plenty of bucks. So it’s perhaps understandable that the talented authors of “Peggy Sue Got Married” wanted to turn their popular 1986 high school movie into a new musical. Since this yarn has considerable emotional heft, not to mention easy points of audience identification, there’s great potential. But like “Big” before it, the surprisingly complicated “Peggy Sue” is ultimately strangled as it tries to squeeze too many movie plot points into the narrower confines of a contempo tuner. With a surfeit of extraneous characters and endless balladic hand-wringing, Arlene Sarner and Jerry Leichtling’s intermittently likable “Peggy Sue” needs a thorough reworking if Broadway is to be in its future.
The premise of both film and musical is that a 40-ish mother attending her high school reunion somehow finds herself transported back to her own school days in the 1950s. Although Peggy Sue retains her adult perspective, those around her treat her like a teenager. At the top of Peggy Sue’s list is not making the mistake of marrying Charlie, her high school sweetheart who turned out to be a cheating loser in adulthood.
Like all stories about time travel in which the past changes the future, it’s very hard for this tale to retain complete internal logic. But the idea of re-experiencing adolescence with new perspective is certainly intriguing, and the basic setup allowed Sarner and Leichtling to pen an endless series of “stranger in a strange land” one-liners, as well as a few scenes with deeper and more serious themes. Most of the witty gags were carefully transplanted from screenplay to musical, and they still work.
But musicals offer less time to build a story. The show makes the mistake of focusing too much time on Peggy Sue as she agonizes over and with Charlie, as well as her dalliance with a self-serving beatnik called Michael. Its best scenes are those in which we see the interplay of future and past, innocence and experience. When we see Peggy Sue lecturing her parents, enjoying a visit with her non-judgmental grandparents and empowering pre-feminist schoolgirls, the show is great fun.Bob Gaudio, who penned “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and other catchy standards, has provided several pleasing numbers including a witty ditty in which Peggy Sue instructs a bunch of myopic cheerleaders that they are “2 Old 2 Get Married 2 Young” and a catchy rock number called “New Car Smell.” But when Gaudio departs from the pop-rock idiom the score falters.
With an overly long first act and several scenes that fizzle into nothing, Sarner and Leichtling should also pay attention to their transitions — the time transformations at the beginning and close of the show are especially flat in David H. Bell’s otherwise solid premiere production.
Although the sweet-voiced Susan Moniz is halting at times in the lead, she captures the character’s cynicism with a deft wit. David Burnham is appropriately oily as Charlie (played by Nicolas Cage in the film), and there are a couple of very strong performances from Larry Yando and Paula Scrofano as Peggy Sue’s flustered parents.
There’s certainly a pleasant and appealingly musical hidden under all of the extraneous baggage that Peggy Sue is currently taking on her travels. Should she re-emerge leaner, tighter and re-focused, she’ll have a decent shot at sticking around.