One of the things that mystifies his friends at work about my husband K, a Broadway pit musician, is why he would spend his time-off sitting in a theater watching a musical. Some of them figure he's just an indulgent spouse with a theater-mad wife. Both of these things are true. But even before we met, K would take off from a paid performance and buy a ticket to see that very same show if he thought it was good enough, and he looks forward to a great show almost as much as I do. So we were both anticipating LoveMusik.
And who wouldn't look forward to it? It’s an original musical instead of a revival and the chance to see something brand new is always welcomed. It's also based on the life and music of Kurt Weill, whom many consider to be a father of the concept musical. Its book is by Alfred Uhry, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his play Driving Miss Daisy and a Tony for the book of the musical Parade. It stars Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy, two of the best talents working in musicals today, as Weill and his wife, the singer Lotte Lenya. And it is directed by the great Hal Prince, whose 40-year resume includes the groundbreaking original productions of Cabaret, Company, Sweeney Todd, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera and Kiss of the Spiderwoman. And yet, the show doesn't work. As soon as the lights went up at intermission, the man sitting next to me stood up. “Going out?” I asked. “Leaving,” he said and turned to his wife to ask if she were coming.
So what went wrong? Cerveris and Murphy do their best—which is pretty damn good—but despite its high-toned pedigree, LoveMusik is really just a jukebox musical. And finding a way to weave a musician’s well-known songs into a compelling plot has proven to be tougher than it sounds. For every pitch perfect hit like Jersey Boys or Movin' Out, there are totally tone deaf misses like Good Vibrations, All Shook Up, Lennon or The Times They Are A-Changin'. And at least The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Bob Dylan have big songbooks that can summon up happy thoughts about when you first heard a song or what your favorite version of it is. Weill simply doesn't have that many tunes that evoke those kinds of memories.
A good book would have helped, as the rags-to-riches-and-back-
down again story of the Four Seasons did for Jersey Boys but Uhry's story of Weill and Lenya's love life unfolds with the narrative drive of a tour through a stranger’s album of wedding photos—and then they did this, and then they did that. Artful staging or a smart concept, as Twyla Tharp pulled off with her all-dance tribute to Billy Joel in Movin' Out, might still have saved the day but Prince seems to have been just going through the motions this time out. Even the sets and costumes look bargain-rate. And where the show should have stinted, it didn't; LoveMusik runs around 2 hours and 45 very long minutes.