Running a nice little family restaurant in New York isn’t what it used to be, what with spiking rent prices, competition with hipster eateries and ever-changing food tastes. These and more are the issues facing the owners of Table, the homey establishment at the heart of the Long Wharf Theater’s world premiere of “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” a pleasant but overstuffed, not-yet-satisfying musical by New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik and Broadway musical vet David Shire. There’s certainly plenty to chew on here — including an abundance of food-as-life metaphors — but sometimes less of a full plate is advisable for a show with a straightforward, family-first theme.
The idea of trying to find a middle ground in a rapidly changing world of tech, commerce and ever-shifting identities remains relevant and relatable, but first you need compelling characters to care about. Here there’s the generically nice family of chef David (Matt Bogart, a late-in-rehearsal replacement), his wife and front-of-house-manager Claire (Anastasia Barzee), their teenage son Bix (Tyler Jones) and young daughter Phoebe (Sawyer Niehaus).
Things are enlivened when David, in desperate financial straits because of a soaring rent increase, asks help from former business partner Sergio (Constantine Maroulis, delicious as he is devilish). Sergio now heads a food empire and could use the street cred of David’s respected position in the Union Square market community. Complicating matters: Sergio (“I may be a bad boy, but I’m not a bad guy”) had a long-ago fling with Claire. Their connection gets reheated when he returns to turn the Table in more ways than one.
Providing contrasting food/life philosophy is Carlo (Mark Nelson in endearing comic-sage mode), who runs Anarchist Pizza in Bensonhurst, where David grew up. Carlo’s daughter Anna (Krystina Alabado) meets Bix, who shows up during a cheese delivery, and next-gen romance blooms in its own quirky way.
The theme-setting opener “Something’s Growing” gets the show off to a bland start, and a few tunes (“What Do We Do Now?” “Lucky”) do little but add to a lengthy running time. There’s more zip in the second act, which opens with the clever “There’s Always a Wait for Your Table” (led by a nicely icy Anne Horak as the new reservation czarina). But it takes quite a long while to resolve issues and arrive at the show’s warmhearted conclusion.
Shire’s tunes have a confident, cosmopolitan glide that eases from jazz to blues to ballads, and Gopnik’s lyrics have a deft, playful touch. Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations are sublime in their understatement, making the most out of the fine seven-piece band led by music director John McDaniel.
But in this premiere production, staged by Gordon Edelstein, the strongest numbers are given to secondary characters. Darlesia Cearcy, as cheese-vender Phoebe, lets loose as she warns David of the inevitable in “Market Forces”; Carlo’s pizza-centric advice to David in “Slice of Life” is a highlight, as is Sergio’s seductive “And Then I’ll Go.” The teens are charming in the sweetly awkward “So, Like Maybe,” and the father-daughter duet “It’s Never Raining In Seattle” proves powerful emotions are best delivered quietly.
In its current form, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York” needs more vividness in its leads and some significant editing if it hopes to move forward. Right now, it’s a musical meal that, despite some tasty bits, still leaves you hungry.