The Oak Room at the Algonquin has come up with a novel way to fill winter Monday nights; not a one-shot by an upcoming or faded cabaret singer, but a fully realized mini-musical comedy. “Glimpses of the Moon,” from Edith Wharton’s 1922 novel (which immediately followed her Pulitzer-winner, “The Age of Innocence”), fits reasonably well in the hallowed room and makes a pleasant evening’s diversion.
Wharton’s Jazz Age tale tells of a likable dancer-girl and novelist-boy, members of the underfed upper class who subsist from house-party to house-party. Their plan: to marry solely for the purpose of accumulating lavish wedding gifts from their gilt-edged friends, which they figure will bring enough at the pawn shop to get them through a year. They mutually agree to step aside as soon as one or the other finds a bona fide millionaire of their own, but you can pretty much guess what happens.
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All this is set to an original score of quasi-Roaring ’20s music, not authentic but more like a cross between Dana Suesse and Cy Coleman. Songs, by BMI Workshop graduates John Mercurio and Tajlei Levis, are mostly clever and intelligent. Two ballads stand out, the romantic “Glimpses of the Moon” and the smoky “I’ll Step Aside.” There’s also a droll comedy number for an Agnes Gooch-type in thick glasses, “The Glories of Greece.”
Mercurio pours his heart into the score at the piano, accompanied by a lone player doubling on sax and clarinet (Geoff Burke). Second act — after a creative and very funny account of a nautical disaster at the Newport Regatta — dwindles somewhat, with a couple of songs not up to the level of the rest.
Patti Murin — moonlighting from her Broadway chores as the Muse of Music down the block at “Xanadu” — and Stephen Plunkett make an attractive central couple. Laura Jordan does an especially funny job as the near-spinster with a penchant for Greek ruins.
Director Marc Bruni and choreographer Denis Jones — who serve as, respectively, associate director and choreographer of “Legally Blonde,” among other musicals — make good use of the cramped space between the Oak Room tables, with Jones finding the opportunity to shoehorn in some flapper-era dance steps.
Site-specific aspect is a plus; one of the scenes actually takes place at the Oak Room, with the romantic leads sitting at the cramped center banquette being serenaded by a cabaret star. (This one-song cameo will be performed by rotating guests; at the opening it was smoothly essayed by Algonquin stalwart KT Sullivan, with Susan Lucci and Alison Fraser slated for future weeks.) That said, this intimate six-character, two-musician piece would probably work just as well on a traditional stage, making it a possibility for stock and amateur groups in search of a small, Jazz Age tuner.