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Waiting for the Moon

"Remarks," Gertrude Stein famously remarked, "are not literature." Neither are they musical theater, as somebody should have told the creators of "Waiting for the Moon," a tedious and crass bio of the Fitzgeralds in which neither Stein, nor Hemingway nor anybody else from that legendary era appears.

F. Scott Fitzgerald - Jarrod Emick Zelda Fitzgerald - Lauren Kennedy Ben Simon - Ben Dibble

“Remarks,” Gertrude Stein famously remarked, “are not literature.” Neither are they musical theater, as somebody should have told the creators of “Waiting for the Moon,” a tedious and crass bio of the Fitzgeralds in which neither Stein, nor Hemingway nor anybody else from that legendary era appears. Not only are the literary lions missing, but so is the literary sensibility: Why write a show about a great author if you’re going to treat him as if he were Paris Hilton?

Tuner begins with an excellent framing device: Black-and-white film shows us a reporter (Ben Dibble, a fine Philly talent whose gorgeous singing voice is never used) in close-up, banging away at a manual typewriter after his final interview with Zelda. Problem is that we see him type the last line of “The Great Gatsby,” causing considerable confusion for anyone who recognizes it.

Following the Fitzgeralds from courtship to their deaths — Scott’s in Hollywood, Zelda’s in an asylum fire — the book plods through the years, while the music and costumes seem oblivious to time’s passage.

Failing to evoke the times or the places (Alabama is differentiated from Paris by men dancing together in the latter), we need the program (or the fake accents) to provide the clue.

The show’s sympathy is clearly with Zelda, although it never captures her passionate longing to be more than Mrs. Fitzgerald: the hopeless, body-destroying study of ballet, the pathetic novel-writing. She sings, “Living life to the hilt will be my masterpiece,” a notion she outlived.

Scott’s longings — and Fitzgerald is the American poet of longing — are reduced to mere fame and fortune as every cliche parades by.

“Waiting for the Moon” is almost entirely a two-hander in which nobody else has so much as a song. Frank Wildhorn delivers 21 forgettable musical numbers, an exhausting task for two voices. The ensemble fills up the stage and sometimes dances (a tap number creates the sound of typewriter keys, the only choreography to vary the generic, faux-ballet stuff).

Playing Scott, Jarrod Emick’s voice is pleasantly mellow; as Zelda, Lauren Kennedy’s singing has a chalk-on-blackboard quality that never lets up. There is no visible chemistry between them, making the doomed love affair a fact instead of a feeling.

The real surprise is to find this company’s big Broadway credentials in a high school auditorium in suburban New Jersey. The Lenape Regional Performing Arts Center is drawing big names and providing big parking lots, but walking through the long institutional corridors to the restroom, auds might feel they need a hall pass.

The show’s creatives, Wildhorn, Jack Murphy and Vincent Marini didn’t do their American lit homework.

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Waiting for the Moon

Lenape Regional Performing Arts Center, Marlton, N.J.; 1,500 seats; $50 top

Production: A Lenape Regional Performing Arts Center presentation of a musical in two acts with music by Frank Wildhorn, book and lyrics by Jack Murphy, story by Murphy and Vincent Marini. Directed by Marini. Musical direction, Ron Melrose; orchestration, Kim Scharnberg. Choreography, Andy Blankenbuehler.

Creative: Sets, Robert Odorisio; costumes, Janine McCabe; lighting, Howell Binkley; sound, Nick Kourtides; projections, Michael Clark; production stage manager, Brady Gonsalves. Opened, reviewed July 20, 2005. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Cast: F. Scott Fitzgerald - Jarrod Emick Zelda Fitzgerald - Lauren Kennedy Ben Simon - Ben DibbleWith: Leslie Alexander, Nova Bergeron, Rachel Bress, Alison Cimmet, Terri Dixon, Scott Greer, Richard J. Hinds, Keith Kuhl, Michael McGowan, Jesse Nager, Jessica Lea Patty, Adam Pelty, Kristin Piro, Eric Stretch, Matt Wall, Brandi Wooten.

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