I know, I know …
One of the worst things that a critic can do is tell you how good a show is after it has closed.
But one musical that recently ended its out-of-town tryout is sure to surface again – ideally with same cast.
BOYNTON BEACH CLUB should retain director Karen Carpenter, too, who’s done unfussy work that serves her authors and gets their messages across.
So keep an eye out for this one.
If the title BOYNTON BEACH CLUB sounds familiar, you might have run into the 2005 film that Susan Seidelman directed and co-wrote. For this wonderfully truthful musical that recently played Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, NJ, Seidelman decided to write the book herself, leave the direction to Carpenter and have composer Ned Paul Ginsburg and lyricists Michael Colby and Cornelia Ravenal provide the score.
The club consists of members of a Florida retirement community. Walkers are used by some, while others easily carry bags of golf clubs.
Yes, many may have enlisted in Boynton Beach too early. Certainly Marilyn wishes she hadn’t, for her husband was killed here by a distracted driver. That put her in the Boynton Beach Bereavement Club along with widow Lois and widower Jack.
Donald is interested in the former and Sandy in the latter. Lois has been burned by too many inferior men to dare to entertain the notion of dating Donald. Jack is as nervous about “My First Date in a Million Years” as is – well, Sandy.
She should be unnerved. Sandy has a secret; so does Donald, who at least has the decency to tell Lois that he wants to let her in on what she doesn’t know about him. We’ll see if or when either or both of them will be found out.
And while lying can never be justified, we can sympathize with the characters who are driven to deliver giant falsehoods. The liars are so lovably written that by this point, we’ve come to care for them. Thus we root that their mistakes can be righted and forgiven.
In fact, we root for everyone here.
Considering what has happened by Act Two, “Is It Too Late for Love?” isn’t the issue; “Will I Ever Again Trust Enough to Love?” is, and that should be what the song should address. The lyricists have come up with some ear-tickling rhymes: “psycho” with “Geico” and “Jello” with “Che bello,” the latter heard in an Italianate song that Ginsburg gets right.
He’s also on target cha-cha and doo-wop – genres that these Baby Boomers embraced in their youth. And yet, Ginsburg should heed one of the show’s most knowing lines: “I haven’t been popular since Woodstock,” citing that seminal event that defined Boomers. This was the first generation to express disinterest (nay: contempt) for most Golden Age show music, so all these characters should have a post-Elvis sound. Ginsburg often gets it, but one can tell from so many of his melodies that he’s a Broadway Baby at heart.
Seidelman knows the details of senior life in such places: early-bird specials at the Chinese buffet, pickle ball, karaoke and Viagra. Any writer could catalogue these; getting them to seem fresh is the key, and Seidelman does. She knows where to put the punch in punch lines.
The librettist is on target with emotions, too. Harry takes pride in still being able to drive at night. Jack experiences the sadness of removing a dead wife’s clothes from the closet. Right after that he’s to see Sandy which makes him feel that he’s being “unfaithful.”
Marilyn has some nice OUR TOWN-like moments: “Funny the things you cling to when they’re taken away … our every beautiful morning was the same,” which isn’t remotely a complaint.
A strange moment occurs when Jack goes into a store where a man in drag is also a customer. What’s not made clear is if he’s a transvestite or transsexual, but neither one nor the other is required; just a standard-issue person should witness this otherwise amusing scene.
The creators shouldn’t cut this scene, but considering the two-and-a-half-hour length, excisions would be advisable. One easy discard would be the running joke about a character’s going on dating sites and often being appalled at what she sees – funny though the scenes are. Harry’s getting in over his head with an on-line date is unpleasant, although it justifies being retained once it leads into one of Ginsburg’s best ditties.
The most beneficial cuts would be the two scenes in which Marilyn sees the woman who killed her husband; the second time she has an ugly confrontation with her that makes us embarrassed for both parties. (Don’t lose Marilyn’s sensational eleven o’clock number, though, which Leah Hocking does magnificently.)
The fact that our lives go swiftly by was also reflected in the casting, for here was Andrea McArdle, Broadway’s original Annie, 42 years after that triumph. She’s still triumphant as Lois. Barry Pearl, who was the last performer to play the pre-teen in the original company of BYE BYE BIRDIE, showed there’s no substitute for experience; he delivered each line with the precision of a nuclear equipment technician.
As Jack, Joel Blum had to cover a range of emotions, and, my, did he have them covered: loss, anguish, tentativeness, apprehensiveness, rebirth, and back to anger again. Nina Hennessy let us see that Sandy is certainly interested in finding a man but won’t devolve into desperation.
The seniors were treated with dignity, even when choreographer Paula Sloan purposely made Jack look foolish when he overdid the groovy dancing.
Carpenter’s swift-as-the-wind staging was a considerable asset. Too bad, though, that she and/or the authors went for a lamely unfunny joke in making the bereavement club leader a new-age, over-gesticulating cliché.
Set designer Shoko Kambara economized by establishing each tenant’s unit by simply showing a front door; far less often she took us inside. No matter; the creators of BOYNTON BEACH CLUB brought us inside the heads of their characters, which is why this audience and future ones will take them into their hearts.