BWW Review: 5th Ave's Cute ROMY AND MICHELE Isn't Lyrical or Catchy
Take a silly yet beloved movie that breeds nostalgia in all who love it and turn it into a musical. It's the way of the world of musical theater. Sure, we still get some original pieces but the safe money for producers is on the recognizable name. Sometimes it works and sometimes it crashes and burns. "Legally Blonde" works, "The Wedding Singer" kind of works, and "Amelie" definitely did not. And now the latest to join the ranks of those movie translations to musical theater is trying things out at the 5th Avenue Theatre. I am, of course, referring to "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, The Musical". A cute and quirky little romp that has potential but needs some serious help before it falls into the "it works" category.
The stage show mostly follows the 1997 sleeper (often times verbatim). High school outcasts Romy and Michele (Cortney Wolfson and Stephanie Renee Wall) make it through high school only due to each other as they survive unrequited loves and getting tormented by the A list kids. Now it's 10 years later and the girls have left Tucson and party it up nightly in LA. But it's time for the high school reunion and they don't feel they've accomplished much in life at least not enough to impress their former classmates. So, they decide to concoct a big lie and go to the reunion posing as successful business women who invented Post-It Notes.
I'll admit to a soft spot for the movie. Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino are adorable in it and it's cute and clever and shows off a wonderfully tight relationship filled with heart. The musical retains much of that fun and heart thanks largely to the fact that the book writer, Robin Schiff, was also the screenwriter for the film. So, the script is mostly just the same with large chunks lifted right from the screenplay. But where the show falls down is with the music and especially lyrics from Gwendolyn Sanford and BranDon Jay. The songs just are not memorable or catchy (we'll come back to more of that in a bit) and they do not move the story along. Instead they insist on punctuating a moment that has already happened bringing the flow of the story to a grinding halt. Furthermore, big production numbers are fun but not every moment needs one. If it's all production numbers, then they're not special and the audience has no time to invest in the story and feel. And as for the songs not being catchy I feel that mainly has to do with the fact that they're not lyrical and don't really track due largely because many of the lyrics are just the dialogue from the movie put to music. Unless a script is in verse, dialogue doesn't make good lyrics. There were a few exceptions with some catchy numbers but mostly for the supporting characters and mostly for numbers that were moments never in the movie. Heather Mooney's (Jordan Kai Burnett) take on love was a lot of fun and really communicated her character and Sandy Frink's (Michael Thomas Grant) testimonial of love was a stunner and completely stole the show.
The cast is full of energy and fun and trying their hardest. Wolfson and Wall are adorable as the ditzy heroines and manage some decent vocal impressions of the originals but never get their moments to convey much about their relationship or character other than being party girls. Burnett is delightful as the bitter foul mouthed loner Heather. Grant completely kills as the nerdy Sandy turned hottie and his voice is incredible. Hannah Schuerman is quite lovable as the awkward Toby and Tess Soltau makes for a fine villain as the superficial A-Lister Christy.
So, the story still works and even has a new bit at the end that works better than the movie, the cast is fun and full of life and heart, and the costumes from Amy Clark are a triumph. It's just the songs that need the work to make this show a winner. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, The Musical" at the 5th Avenue a MEH+ with potential. I just hope they can rise to that potential before they attempt any kind of Broadway run or the show will last as long as the aforementioned "Amelie".
"Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, The Musical" performs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through July 2nd. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.