BWW Reviews: The World Premiere of COUPLED at the Jimmy Ferraro Studio Theatre
There are not many things more exciting than seeing the birth of a brand new musical. The cast has been working hard to create something that's fresh and untouched, starting from absolute scratch, developing an unknown entity without the aid of a blueprint or an Original Cast CD. Things are usually being tweaked up to the last minute, changes sometimes made throughout the production process. Take Stephen Sondheim's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Its out of town previews weren't going well, so Sondheim wrote an entirely new song to see if that would help. The song turned out to be one of his most iconic numbers, "Comedy Tonight," and from that point on, "Funny Thing" was a smash.
There's a wonderful new show debuting at the Jimmy Ferraro Studio Theatre, and it's a must-see. Diana Rogers, Broadway veteran and theatre teacher, wrote the music, lyrics and book to COUPLED, a hilarious, incisive view of marriage that will have audience members nodding their heads in recognition of their own marriages and relationships. Boy, does it hit home with both men and women! It's a lively, fun, yet moving musical that fits that needed niche between the young marrieds in "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" and the older "Menopause: The Musical" ladies. Although the show's themes are universal, it will really connect with married baby boomers.
The plot is simple: Three couples are on vacation at the grand opening of New Millennium Oasis Resort PGA Golf Course. Couple number one, Donna and Bill (Diana Rogers and Pete Clapsis), endures a long, quarter-century marriage and suffers the ups and downs of living daily life together till death do them part. A second married couple, Lexi and Jack (Jessica Virginia and Rick Faurote), have an age difference--she's younger and he's much older, but somehow they make it work. A third couple, Maggie and Daniel (Dee Etta Rowe and Brandon Mauro), are not married but, like Lexi and Jack, have a major age discrepancy between a cougar who doesn't want to quite settle down yet and her much younger suitor.
The songs are the bread and butter of the show, and they are quite funny with quirky lyrics and a score that brings to mind the music of the 1950's, '60's, and '70's. You can't wrong with titles like "Bathroom Samba," "Ballad to Botox" and "Help Me, Oprah." "Like I Did Then," an Act 2 number in which the men sing about the way they saw their wives years ago, is sweetly poignant. The memorable "Dream Man" features each woman imagining their significant other in fantasies ranging from cavemen, to cowboys, ultimately to Mr. Spock (Pete Clapsis in full "Star Trek" regalia is a sight that I will not forget anytime soon).
My favorite songs include the bouncy "Honey Do," with hysterical lyrics, fine harmonies and clever choreography with the men using their golf clubs as microphones, and "Channel Surfing," which merges classic Sixties surf music (arranged by Benjamin Bailey) with the fine art of boob tube gazing.
The set could have been more elaborate. COUPLED is big, bright, colorful fun...a musical that should be reflected with big, bright, fun colors, not just black and tan. The sparse set inexplicably looks like a black-box version of "Waiting for Godot" without the tree. It's almost a blank canvas, which seems more appropriate for a workshop than for a full-scale production.
But the performances of director Jimmy Ferraro's cast are first rate.
Diana Rogers knows how to own a stage. As Donna, she's unabashed without any signs of self-consciousness, but she also showcases a deep vulnerability and heart. And when she tells the other women that she has only romantically been with her husband, it's a moment of touching realism. She is a gutsy, courageous performer with a keen sense of comic timing.
As her computer programmer husband, Pete Clapsis is amiable and always great fun to watch onstage, but one would wish that he would embrace his character's slightly darker side and refrain from breaking character.
Rick Faurote is wonderful as Jack, and he has an incredible singing voice that really gives weight to the male harmonies throughout the production. Jessica Virginia really holds her own as Lexi, and gives such a natural, fervent performance. Their duet on "You to Love" brings much-needed tenderness to the comic proceedings.
Dee Etta Rowe is wonderfully talented and shows tremendous stage presence in her numbers. We are so lucky to have this gem of an actress in our midst. As her boy toy, Brandon Mauro steals the show. In fact, his performance is the best of a very talented bunch. He brightens the stage with his abundant energy, versatility and wide-eyed charisma. The scene where he must wax off unruly back hair is hilariously uncomfortable and quite brave. It is our fortune that he is currently in town so we get to see him rule the stage with his special brand of joie de vivre. It's a star turn.
The show is a blast, but Act 1 seemed tighter than Act 2. Also, technical problems plagued the production I saw. I'm sure these issues with both lighting and sound will be ironed out before the next performance. In the Sunday matinee, too many sound glitches took us out of the show; it happened so often, it reminded me of a real-life version of "Noises Off," which I had seen just the night before. Microphones seemed superfluous in such an intimate space. Flickering lights after each musical number were a major distraction. And set changes were too unnecessarily long and numerous; they really affected the pace of the show.
But see COUPLED to witness the genesis of a cute, astute new musical; to once again visit the darling Jimmy Ferraro Studio Theatre; and finally, to see this great cast, especially Brandon Mauro. It really is a musical that women can bring their husbands to; chances are, they will see themselves represented on that stage.