If you are a fan of the songs of Neil Sedaka, BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO, featuring 19 tunes performed by an enthusiastic ensemble at Ivoryton Playhouse, then love will keep you together. The implausible book concocted to link the songs together in Broadway-show fashion, however, might cause a little laughter in the rain.
Writing the “jukebox” musical has proved difficult in almost every attempt. Mamma Mia, featuring the music of ABBA, The Buddy Holly Story (which had a recent run at Ivoryton), and Rock of Ages featuring 1980s rock music by various artists are just a few that have tried to find a way to come up with a story to present a bunch of popular tunes. Probably the most successful is Tony-winner Jersey Boys, which naturally incorporates the songs as part of the group’s biography. No brainstorming is needed to come up with why the boys suddenly start singing “Walk Like a Man”….
Here, book writers Erik Jackson and Ben H. Winters come up with a basic plot and hope we are more interested in the songs than in substance. It’s 1960 and bombshell blonde ditz Lois (Sheila Coyle) takes shy mousy dental student Marge (Leah Monzillo), who recently was left at the altar, to Esther’s Paradise Resort in the Catskills to take her mind off her troubles and find new romance. Reluctant at first, Marge suddenly is interested when she catches sight of stud headliner Del Delmonaco (Christopher DeRosa) performing nightly with his backup group, the Del Tunes (Brett Bainer and Brandon Mauro). Besides the script, what needs some fine tuning here, unfortunately, are the harmonies. Throughout, whenever voices blend for duets or group numbers, they sound at odds or off key.
Lois implies that Marge’s father can get Del a recording contract, so he starts romancing the unsuspecting girl who is unaware that she already has won the heart of Del’s shy and bumbling cousin, Gabe Green (Scott Scaffidi). Meanwhile, Esther (Melanie Souza) also is unaware that long-time employee Harvey Feldman (R. Bruce Connelly) wants more from their punchline-filled relationship. Will Marge find true love? Will Esther and Harvey find deeper love? Will book writers ever write a believable jukebox musical book and did anyone besides me not realize Marge and Lois are related? I only discovered this after reading the program and seeing they share a surname.)
If you take the show for what it is – a chance to hear a lot of Neil Sedaka songs like “Lonely Night,” “Where the Boys Are,” “Stupid Cupid,” “Oh, Carol,” “Calendar Girl” and “Next Door to an Angel” -- you’ll enjoy the two-hour-15-minute presentation. Under the direction of Jacqueline Hubbard, Monzillo and Coyle give perky performances and lend solid vocals and belts to the tunes (under the musical direction of John Sebastian DeNicola who conducts the five-member band up on stage. Tony Andrea designs the set.) Monzillo gives a moving interpretation of “Solitaire” effectively lighted by designer Marcus Abbott.
Green is engaging as the nerdy, beleaguered assistant running errands for celebrity Delmonaco while hiding his own feelings and talents. Connelly and Souza try hard to milk their roles for humor and mostly succeed. The production gets a boost to the top of the charts by the appropriately corny choreography by Caitlin Sailer, ’60s vintage clothes by Costume Designer LisaMarie Harry and beehive and teased hairdos designed by Joel Silvestro. Another highlight the day I attended was a sweet audience participation moment when a senior was invited up on stage to sway along with “Happy Birthday Sweet 16.”
Breaking Up is Hard to Do plays at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main, St., Ivoryton, through Oct. 14. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Evening performances Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Do to demand, a matinee has been added 2 pm on Saturday, Oct. 13. Tickets: $40 for adults, $35 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children (860) 767-7318; www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.
Note: Jacqui Hubbard sent the following note:
BTW - You are the only one who spotted a mistake in our Playbill. Administration, cast and crew all missed it! Marge’s name is Gelman, not Warner. If you look at the cast bios in the back it lists her as Gelman. They are just best friends, not relatives.
Lauren, a former newspaper editor, is the editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com) and Reflections in the Light (http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com) where she reviews Broadway, Off-Broadway