BWW Review: CURVY WIDOW is a Fun and Frisky Showcase For Nancy Opel
Playing a well-off Manhattanite named Bobby, an expert in juggling the running of her own construction business with a busy social calendar while being a supportive spouse to her famous writer husband, Opel is called upon to follow the show's bouncy opening number about how her character always has everything under control with a more somber selection about being a 55-year-woman who suddenly finds herself alone after 30 years of marriage.
Composer/lyricist Drew Brody gives her an incisive lyric filled with questions about where her life goes from here and Opel gives it a masterful interpretation that balances shock, sorrow and a determination to start anew.
But that's just the set-up. Opel is known to musical theatre audiences as one of the Contemporary Stage's great comic forces and after grounding the ninety-minute piece with empathy, Curvy Widow transforms into a fun and frisky showcase for its star.
Bookwriter Bobby Goldman based the musical on her own experiences after her husband, playwright, screenwriter and novelist James Goldman, passed on in 1998. The title refers to the member name she used for her first Match.com profile.
As the musical explains, Bobby tried Internet dating on the advice of her therapist, who suggested that she needed to go out and start having sex again.
The story goes through the expected route of bad dates with men who turn out to be too needy, too selfish, too cheap, too immature or just too married.
"Single men my age are awful," the exasperated Bobby sings. "There's a reason that they are alone."
Looking for a guy who's more of an adult, she innocently joins an adult dating site, where new vistas of possibilities open up.
But discouraging her every step of the way is the spirit of - or perhaps it's her hallucination of - her dead husband Jim (a dashing and sexy Ken Land) who doesn't like the idea of being replaced.
Land is part of a talented sextet of middle-aged actors (also including Andrea Bianchi, Aisha de Haas, Elizabeth Ward Land, Alan Muraoka and Chris Shyer) who pop in and out as an assortment of characters, but Opel is the focal point of nearly every scene and song, and the authors offer several spot-on moments for her to shine.
There's a sexy burlesque style number Bobby belts when she reinvents herself as her dating profile persona. There's also a clever number where she filters out the undesirables from the landslide of messages she gets from prospective dates. (This could be the first major New York Theatre production where the lead character sings about dick pics.)
There's also an especially poignant song about her conflicting emotions when, for the first time in over three decades, she feels the intimate touch of a man who isn't Jim.
The tone of the show often reflects Bobby's status as an affluent Manhattanite, which can be either amusing or annoying. When she decides to move out of her Fifth Avenue penthouse and build her own downtown loft, you might find yourself wondering if it's one of those modern atrocities built where there used to be a beloved Off-Broadway theatre.
A prospective date writes in his introductory note that he lives on Central Park South, which she adds to his plusses, and another fellow is simply referred to by Bobby as Per Se, because that's the restaurant he invites her to for their first date.
While Curvy Widow may not seem especially innovative on the surface, an entertainment that respectfully presents the adventures of a woman in her 50s seeking sex and romance with men in her age range can, unfortunately, be considered a novelty in American pop culture.
Perhaps more shows like Curvy Widow can change a few minds about desirability.