For Lovers Only,” the new five-character, two-keyboard, six-barstool musical revue at Off Broadway’s New World Stages, begs the question: for lovers of what? Not for lovers of theater, certainly. Eighty-five popular songs from stage, screen and radio are ineffectively strung together, many featuring just four or eight measures’ worth. It takes only one seven-song string to demonstrate that this ain’t a good idea, a calculation compounded exponentially over almost two hours.
As the audience filed out for intermission at the final preview, a distinguished lady of advanced age responded to a question from the lead producer by loudly proclaiming, “I don’t like medleys. I’d rather hear real songs.” Presumably, it won’t be a surprise when professional critics express similar sentiments. These are real songs, many by great composers, but the snipping and stitching trivializes them. Songwriters and their estates are almost always glad to have their wares sampled by paying audiences, but few will be happy with their treatment in this minor opus, which includes tune snatches from Rodgers, Kern, Porter and Styne, plus six by Stephen Sondheim.
The staging is the sort in which one couple sings while another couple mime talking in the background, and often you’d rather hear what the upstage pair is saying. The choreography reaches its nadir when piano player Ken Lundie is instructed to stand up and do a dance break to “You and Me,” from “Victor/Victoria.” Lundie, who helped devise the affair, has a big synthetic smile and sees fit to sing duets occasionally. He is joined by a synthesizer, which sounds especially synthetic and, on occasion, like an organ grinder without his monkey.
Production values consist of a brief film segment utilizing movie posters and a clip of Doris Day singing to a horse. Let it be added that “For Lovers Only” — in the basement of the New World multiplex — is playing directly beneath “Naked Boys Singing.” The non-naked boys play it straight, mostly, although there’s an uncomfortable moment when the two boys sing “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love” to each other, and a guffaw-generating one when one of the fellows — in the throes of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” — uses a throw pillow to illustrate how he is “at last oversexed again.”
The first-act malaise is alleviated periodically by the singing of Monica L. Patton, who deserves a better showcase. Twenty minutes into the show, the patchwork format is interrupted to allow Patton to sing, in its entirety, “I Got Love.” But the respite is only temporary. Patrons who stick around for the second act will find that the others get at least one chance to demonstrate their capabilities, but it’s a long and difficult night for the entire cast. And the audience.
For a forced encore, they insist everyone join in a sing-along, turning the house lights up so uncomfortably high that it’s impossible to slink out. “It’s very clear,” everybody sings, “our love is here to stay.” Not so “For Lovers Only,” which is unlikely to demonstrate much staying power.