Stars in Your Eyes

Man in the Moon/

Man in the Moon/

Taylor St. Joseph …… James Stovall

Reginald Barclay ….. David M. Lutken

Charles Swanson ….. John Braden

Jo Jensen ….. Cristy Carlson Romano

Annie Patterson ….. Barbara Walsh

Helen Stevens ….. Heather MacRae

Leigh Hunt-Smith …… Crista Moore

Chip Meyrelles’ first musical, the gentle and utterly sincere “Stars in Your Eyes,” is in many ways a welcome antidote to the noisy incoherence of the recently opened “Saturday Night Fever” on Broadway. A talent to watch, Meyrelles has kept things small — anincreasing rarity in musical theater — while showcasing himself as a mighty triple threat: composer, lyricist and librettist. On the plus side, “Stars in Your Eyes” resembles an after-school TV special set to song, and many of those songs are lovely, indeed. But as for Meyrelles being a composer, lyricist and librettist? His work as a librettist threatens to undermine his efforts as composer-lyricist. And besides, whatever happened to the occupation of book writer?

The story of “Stars in Your Eyes,” set in 1962, is refreshingly simple: High school science teacher Reginald Barclay (David M. Lutken) attempts to save the local planetarium from the bulldozer while encouraging his prize pupil Jo Jensen (Christy Carlson Romano) to enroll in an all-male school for budding astronomers. As with its downright corny title, “Stars in Your Eyes” traffics in an optimism uncluttered by such outside-world complications as Sputnik, the Cuban Missile Crisis and JFK’s assassination. The former two are mentioned in passing and Mr. Barclay’s fiancee, the snooty and very rich Leigh Hunt-Smith (Crista Moore), does wear a Jackie Kennedy pink pillbox hat for most of act one.

But as for edgy controversy, that’s about it. Sometimes “Stars in Your Eyes” seems to have been written in 1962 and not just set there; at these moments, Meyrelles’ book-writing needs sharpening. Even after-school TV specials don’t view the Moon — a character who just happens to narrate “Stars in Your Eyes” — with blinders on.

As a composer, Meyrelles is much more assured. He’s filled his musical with rich, soaring melodies that only very occasionally pay homage to Stephen Sondheim. In time, he may learn to use his songs to further the action rather than just comment on it. Still, it is a relief to report that “Stars in Your Eyes” does not contain yet another rinky-tinky-tink-tink score a la William Finn.

Gabriel Barre directs a strong ensemble. David M. Lutken is an unlikely musical comedy performer in this age of oversell, but his Mr. Rogers impersonation is utterly charming. Also wonderfully understated is his final love interest, Barbara Walsh. As her predecessor, the Jackie-inspired Crista Moore begins too strong, but in act two she brings some needed bite to the show. James Stovall never does relax into his Ben Vereen/”Pippin” routine, but then there is no real precedent for playing the Man in the Moon.

Quieter is more. And since there’s not a mike onstage at the Cherry Lane, Meyrelles’ ballads are never forced into some deafeningly overamplified crescendo, which is the unfortunate affectation afflicting every other musical currently on Broadway. This music is left alone to speak for itself.

Stars in Your Eyes

(MUSICAL; CHERRY LANE THEATER; 178 SEATS; $ 49.50)

Production: NEW YORK A Tom Wirtshafter/Planetearth Partners presentation of a musical in two acts by Chip Meyrelles. Directed by Gabriel Barre.

Crew: Set, James Youmans; costumes, Pamela Scofield; lighting, Tim Hunter; sound, Brian Ronan; musical direction/ arrangements, Georgia Stitt; choreography, Jennifer Paulson Lee; stage manager, Dan Zittel. Opened Oct. 24, 1999. Reviewed Oct. 23. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

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